A proposal by School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III to boost teacher salaries has drawn criticism from some of the people who stand to benefit from it.
The plan has nettled some teachers, who say the raise would not be a true salary increase because it would come with longer hours. Hatrick wants to extend the school day by 15 minutes and lengthen the school year by seven days.
"It's not even a slap in the face," said Betty Rankin, a 28-year veteran who teaches special-education students at Sterling Middle School. "It's a punch in the gut and a stab in the back."
The $17.6 million two-year plan to increase salaries at least 10 percent annually is intended to bring pay up to that offered by neighboring Fairfax County, where higher salaries have lured potential--and even some experienced--Loudoun teachers.
The pay plan is part of a $247.6 million operating budget request for the 2000-2001 school year that is 21.5 percent higher than the $203.7 million budget approved by the Board of Supervisors for the current fiscal year.
A series of budget hearings began Tuesday. The School Board must adopt a budget, which will be sent to the supervisors in February for final approval.
But at a meeting earlier this week, several teachers asked Hatrick what will happen if supervisors decide not to finance raises approved by the School Board. Instructors said they fear they will be working longer for the same pay.
"Our concern is will we be compensated fairly?" said Kristi Gracek, a fourth-grade teacher at Sterling Elementary School.
Hatrick urged teachers to think of the merits of an extended calendar independent of the wage increases.
"In my little simplistic world, I'm separating the two issues," he said. "We need to have the [planning] days that are identified in the 200-day calendar. It will be magical and perfect if we can do both."
In separate interviews, some supervisors said it was unlikely that the county would endorse the $17.6 million proposal.
"There are a lot of competing interests," said Supervisor James G. Burton (I-Mercer). "Clearly we have to continue to provide the numbers of teachers that we need and the incremental raises they get. But a 10 percent jump may be a little much."
Supervisor-elect William D. Bogard (I-Sugarland Run) said teachers are not the only county employees who make less than their counterparts in Fairfax; Loudoun firefighters, law-enforcement personnel and civil service workers do, too.
"I sympathize with the teachers, but I need to sympathize with others also," he said. "I don't know that I'd favor one group of county employees over another."
School Board Chairman Joseph W. Vogric (Dulles) said he was "cautiously optimistic" that supervisors would endorse the school budget request. But he added, "Four years ago, every candidate that ran for the Board of Supervisors was pro-education until the first budget process."
For months, school officials have been talking publicly about increasing teacher salaries as a way to recruit and retain the best instructors. The issue came up during this year's election campaign, when all School Board candidates pledged to support increased instructor pay.
"Every candidate who was elected acknowledged that we have a disparity problem and that Fairfax is our main competition," Hatrick said. "I'm very hopeful that they will live up to the promises they made. Just listening to them already, I believe, they have good intentions."
School Board member Candyce P. Cassell (Sugarland Run) said that in past years, the School Board has granted teacher raises despite funding cuts from the supervisors. "This board has made a commitment to give good raises every year," she said.
Hatrick's pay request also includes new, separate salary scales for teachers who have a doctorate and veteran instructors holding only a bachelor's degree.
"When you first hear about this, you think, 'Oh my gosh, it's gonna be 10 percent--this is great,' " said Bev Walker, who teaches physical education and driver's education at Park View High School. "But you need to read the fine print."
Hatrick said his proposal to extend the school day and year for all instructors would give teachers more time to plan lessons and meet with parents and other teachers. He said that will be needed in part to help schools perform well on the state's new Standards of Learning tests, or SOLs.
"It is essential in this changing world," Hatrick said. "The demands of the SOLs are too great."
Even though Loudoun teachers would be required to work 200 days, school officials said they would still work one hour less a year than their Fairfax counterparts. Fairfax teachers work 7 1/2-hour days while Loudoun teachers would work 7 1/4 hours daily under Hatrick's proposal.
Some teachers said they support the plan even if the raises are not funded.
"We put in that time anyway," said Kim Finnegan, a fifth-grade teacher at Rolling Ridge Elementary School in Sterling. "To get those extra days is a huge benefit."
"I already put in the hours--I work until 4 p.m.," said a second-grade teacher who declined to be identified. "I will feel cheated [if I don't get a raise], but it's not going to change my life."
School Board member D. Kim Price-Munoz (Sterling) said Hatrick should have put together a committee of teachers to advise him about planning time.
She said she has heard from teachers who oppose returning for the new school year as early as Aug. 16 and believe that seven additional planning days are unnecessary. "If I worked for him, I would be so angry," said Price-Munoz, who is a third-grade teacher in Fairfax.