Fairfax teachers: Spend U.S. jobs funds on raises

By Kevin Sieff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 2, 2010; 9:07 PM

After a two-year salary freeze, Fairfax County teachers are lobbying the School Board to spend anticipated federal funds on pay raises instead of hiring hundreds of new instructors.

With budgets shrinking and enrollment growing, teachers have not received even cost-of-living raises, and some are among several thousand employees who have been hit by non-salary pay cuts. County teachers - pleading low morale and difficult schedules - are looking to a possible $21.3 million federal windfall for respite.

But that plan might clash with both the School Board's plans and the spirit of the Obama administration's $10 billion education jobs bill, which federal officials said was intended to save or create 160,000 teaching jobs.

In Fairfax, concerns remain high about a possible budget shortfall in fiscal 2012. Some board members have expressed doubts about using one-time federal funds for an ongoing expense such as a permanent pay raise for the county's 14,000 teachers.

"Because the $21.3 million is not a recurring income, we can't commit to spending it on a recurring expense," said Ilryong Moon, an at-large member of the board.

Moon said he is interested in increasing teacher pay next year but is waiting on proposals from Superintendent Jack Dale and other board members before he commits to backing a raise for the next school year.

Raises for existing teachers - while permitted by the jobs bill approved in August - would do little to advance the goal of creating or saving teaching positions. But Fairfax teachers say there would be other benefits to the county's more than 170,000 students.

"The workforce right now is completely physically and emotionally exhausted," said Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers. "These teachers have had to take second and third jobs. It's taking its toll."

Greenburg's organization and the county's other teachers union, the Fairfax Education Association, are requesting a 2 percent cost-of-living pay raise for teachers, beginning in the second half of this school year. The cost would be about $18 million in this fiscal year.

The School Board has said it will provide raises in the next budget year. But with about $30 million in stimulus funding expiring and another tight budget expected, the teachers unions are worried that the federal jobs money might be their best chance to get a raise.

"These federal funds are here now, and they're supposed to be used on teachers," said Michael Hairston, president of the Fairfax Education Association.

The teachers' request, though, faces considerable obstacles. The school district needs the county supervisors' approval to receive the funds, and the School Board appears unlikely to commit one-shot funding to an ongoing expense. Prince William County officials have said they may reject the federal money outright rather than spend it on costs, such as hiring new teachers, that could add to budget pressures later.

At the state level, Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) wrote a letter to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) urging him not to accept the federal funds and to "stand firm against this maneuver of the Obama Administration to increase states' dependency on the federal government."

If the teachers fail to secure raises this year, the School Board has a commitment to increase their pay next year, said board member Tessie Wilson (Braddock).

"One way or the other, it will happen. Come hell or high water, there will be pay raises for our teachers next year," Wilson said.

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