Despite strong calls for higher teacher salaries from dozens of teachers and parents at recent public hearings, most members of the Fairfax County School Board say they will vote for their superintendent's original pay proposal when they approve a budget this week.
"This is a competitive pay package," Mary E. Collier, the board's chairman, said of Superintendent Robert R. Spillane's offer of a 4 percent cost-of-living increase on top of usual grade increases.
Some critics of the School Board, which is to vote Wednesday on the 1987 budget of $586 million, say its resistance to higher salaries for teachers reflects its dependence on the Republican-controlled Board of Supervisors. The supervisors appoint members of the School Board and approve its budget.
Several supervisors -- including Board Chairman John F. Herrity -- have stated repeatedly that they do not favor a larger across-the-board raise this year but want to give pay increases only to the best teachers. That was the position the Virginia Republican Party and its candidates took in the fall elections when the state's major teacher groups supported Democratic candidates.
Only two School Board members, Katherine Hanley and Laura I. McDowall, last week called for a bigger pay raise than Spillane recommended for the region's largest teacher force. In addition to the 4 percent cost-of-living increase, Spillane has called for extra money for the most veteran teachers and a $20,000 starting salary for new teachers, up from the current $18,385. The average teacher salary is now $29,275.
The county's two teacher associations asked for a cost-of-living raise more than double what Spillane proposed, and they say his offer gives little to teachers in the middle of the pay range. The county Council of PTAs has called for spending $3.6 million more than Spillane proposed on salary increases.
School Board members opposed to adding to the teacher pay package said they want first to see the report of a commission Spillane appointed this month to study the entire teacher salary structure. Among the areas it will look at are merit pay for the best teachers and whether some groups in short supply -- such as science teachers -- should be paid more than others.
"I'm ambivalent about what else we should do at this particular time until we hear from that very important panel," member Olivia Michener said.
Collier said the package will make Fairfax teachers the best paid in the state, and she cited the 6.6 percent teacher attrition rate as proof that teachers are not dissatisfied with their pay.
Fairfax Education Association President Donna Caudill said the commission argument is "a cop-out" and the board "is not being responsive to the teachers and the parents and the students." The county's low teacher attrition rate, Caudill said, belies the fact that "if they could find other jobs , they would leave in a minute." The group represents most of the county's 7,500 teachers.
Board members called Spillane's budget a good one overall, saying it concentrates money and staff directly on the classroom and not on administration. They backed its proposals for more guidance counselors, smaller kindergarten classes and additional help for schools with large numbers of poor, minority or transient students.
But they questioned one of Spillane's major initiatives, to expand elementary school art instruction. And some board members said the budget should include more teachers and staff in the county's largest elementary schools.
Aside from higher teacher salaries, another casualty of the budget vote may be expanded art instruction in the elementary schools. Spillane's budget proposes spending $412,960 to hire 13 elementary school art teachers so that by the end of four years each class will have an hour a week of art instruction. The proposal culminated a well-orchestrated parent lobbying campaign.
Several School Board members said they may want to hold off on the art proposal until they see the results of a study, to be completed by June, on whether special programs divide the elementary school day so much that learning is impaired. Mason District member Carla M. Yock said she is reluctant to back any program changes in elementary schools until the report is finished.
Collier, in whose Dranesville District the strongest art program supporters live, said the pending report should not be used as an excuse to postpone action.
Teacher association President Caudill questioned why teacher salary increases could be postponed because of a pending study, but additional art instruction may not be. "That's totally contradictory," Caudill said.