Several hundred members of the Fairfax Education Association gave a halfhearted endorsement last week to a wage-and-benefits package that many say was forced down the association's throat.
The salary settlement will provide a pay increase for teachers in the next fiscal year of 9.1 percent - 3.1 percent less than the current year's rise in the cost of living. Many teachers at the assembly noted bitterly that they had little choice in the matter, since they do not have collective bargaining rights. School officials cut short by one month their discussions with association representatives (ordinarily, pay talks continue until mid-December) and reportedly delivered an ultimatum; if the teachers did not accept the 9.1 percent figure before the end of the discussions, school officials would make their own decision about the amount of their raise.
Teachers also were unhappy with several provisions of the benefits package. Many criticized a plan to develop a county-run continuing-education program. The proposal -- initiated by school officials -- would eventually allow the school system to discontinue tuition reimbursement to its employes by offering courses of its own.
Gales of laughter and a few hisses swept through the crowd when association president Bill Costello announced that school administrators were calling the new program the "Fairfax Academy."
Teachers were assured that those already enrolled in degree programs at local colleges could continue to receive tuition reimbursement until they received their degrees. Teachers starting programs in the future would be required to take courses through the county or pay for their own educations.
Many teachers complained that the proposal would deprive them of a broad course selection. Several said they worried that the plan would discourage teachers from earning advanced degrees -- thereby saving the school system money and depriving teachers of access to higher pay scales.
"This is not a loss, believe us, this is not a loss," pleaded association representative Gloria Thorpe Johnson after several speakers critized the program.
The association did succeed in getting school officials to approve one benefit provision the teachers wanted -- the association president will be allowed two years' leave from teaching, instead of one. This action followed a decision by the association last month to allow its president to seek two consecutive terms.
In spite of their unhappiness with the wage-and-benefits package, the teachers commended their representatives for long hours at the discussion table with a standing ovation -- clearly complimenting their endurance, not the final settlement.
Until mid-December, the teachers' group and school officials will continue talks on nonfiscal matters, including issues such as evaluation of teacher performance and grievance procedures.