They stomped their feet, clapped their hands and chanted: "7-point-1 for a job well done."
The chant, the signs and the slogans were part of a demonstration by hundreds of Fairfax County teachers, firefighters and other municipal employes who showed up last week at a Board of Supervisors meeting to demand a 7.1 percent wage increases, contending that a 5.5 percent increase called for in the proposed county budget was not enough.
The demonstration was not appreciated by all those attending the meeting, and John F. Herrity, board chairman, told them high schools kids were better behaved.
"Is there really no understanding that the difference between 7.1 and 5.5 has a real economic and philosophic meaning to us?" Victor E. Cornacchione, president of the Fairfax Education Association, asked the board. "It is a demoralizing experience to know that our economic concerns are treated so callously by some of the citizens of this county."
Cornacchione said that unless teachers get the higher raise, which amounts to an extra $280 a year for the average county teacher making $17,470, teaching morale and the quality of educatin in the county will suffer.
Other representatives of county employes argued at the board meeting, at a press conference and in interviews that they need the 7.1 percent increase to survive financially in affluent Fairfax County, where the median income is $28,500 and the median home price is more than $64,000. Randy Fulford, president of the Fairfax County Professional Firefighters Union, said that more than half of the county's paid firefighters do not live in the county because they can't afford to.
The 7.7 percent increase would cost the county about $3.8 million dollars more than the proposed 5.5 percent increase, which works out to be roughly three cents on the real state tax rate (currently $1.74) for every $100 of assessed value).
The board last December endorsed the lower wage increase and has expressed a strong desire to cut taxes this year. Herrity, who says he will push for an 8 cent property tax reduction, calls the lower wage increase "eminently fair considering the burden on taxpayers."
The county School Board, in its proposed budget for fiscal year 1979, calls for the 7.7 percent wage increase. The Board of Supervisors, which cannot order the School Board to pay teachers less, can try to head off the wage increase by cutting the entire school budget. That's precisely what Herrity said he will try to do. "I intend to squeeze that pay raise out of their budget," he said.
Cornacchione said the higher wage increase is due teachers under a three-year agreement between the Fairfax Education Association and the School Board. Although a ruling last year by the Virginia Supreme Court outlawed collective bargaining by municipal employes' unions, Cornacchione said the School Board has maintained good relations with teachers by honoring their wage agreement. If the supervisors do not grant the higher wage increase, Cornacchione said they "will force that (the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Board) into having to break its faith with us."
The county school system will be the largest single expense in next year's budget, amounting to $262.5 million out of a $586 million proposed budget. Many county taxpayers told the Board of Supervisors last week they think schools are too expensive. Harley Williams, of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, said 738 county employes and 2,591 school workers are paid more than $20,000 a year. Echoing a sentiment voiced often at budget hearings, Williams said, "We have too many bureaucrats and we pay them far too much."
Peter J. Moralis, executive director of the Virginia Public Employes Council 30, pointed out last week that over the last three years county employes have lost about 5 percent of their income to inflation. The consumer price index for the Washington area, Moralis said, went up about 20 percent while salaries have gone up about 15 percent.
Moralis also argued that the county Civil Service Commission made an initial recommendation last fall, based on cost of living figures, for the 7.1 wage increase. Moralis said the commission then changed the recommendation to a 5.5 percent wage increase in order suit county budget-makers.
Cornacchione said the wage increase was important to teachers because of the money and because of what it signifies. He said there will be many angry teachers if the wage increase is cut because teachers would feel betrayed by the supervisors.