The president of Fairfax County's largest teacher organization warned the School Board last night that the county is losing talented teachers to higher-paying jobs in business and industry.
Donna Caudill, president of the Fairfax Education Association, which represents 6,300 teachers, spoke at the first of two public hearings on the proposed $531.2 million school operating budget for the coming fiscal year, 86.6 percent of which is for staff salaries and benefits.
The budget, proposed by Superintendent William J. Burkholder, calls for 4 percent raises for school employes, a figure Caudill's organization and the County Council of PTAs contend is too low.
"We seldom lose poor teachers," Caudill said last night. "It's the most competent ones who are being sought by other businesses."
Caudill was unable to say how many teachers who leave the system do so to make more money. But she said that unless salaries improve, the county schools could be unable to maintain its reputation as one of the nation's best.
"Recently, several Fairfax principals have shared with us applications submitted by prospective teachers," she said. "We share the principals' alarm over the grades and poor communications skills we saw. The applications were littered with grammar and spelling errors. There were a plethora of Ds and Fs throughout the students' college grades. And yet these are the teachers that Fairfax County is considering hiring. We cannot, we must not allow our standards to be lowered so drastically."
The proposed budget, under consideration by the School Board before it goes to the Board of Supervisors, would raise the starting salary of Fairfax teachers next fall from $17,025 to $18,200, and the average teacher in the system would be paid about $29,000.
Teachers have said they will support the superintendent's proposed budget, but only if the School Board and the Board of Supervisors finance extra items that Burkholder wants, but has not asked funding for.
Those items are part of Burkholder's $6.8 million "wish list," to be funded only if extra money can be found. One item asks that the School Board add three additional snow days, extending the school year from the 180 the state requires to 183.
Teachers say that adding three days solves a community problem of never knowing when school is going to end, and provides an average 1.7 percent salary increase for each teacher, Caudill has said.