Fairfax County School Board members have moved forward with a proposal to raise their salaries by more than 85 percent as the school district faces a tough budget year ahead.
At a forum meeting Thursday night, 10 members of the board discussed raising their salaries to $37,500 from $20,000. A majority of the members attending the meeting approved bringing the measure to a vote before the full 12-member board in early April.
The school board proposal follows a 6-to-4 vote earlier this month by the county’s board of supervisors approving new salaries of $95,000 for members and $100,000 for the board chair. Like being a supervisor, sitting on the school board is technically a part-time role.
Ilryong Moon (At Large), who proposed the school board salary increases, said the pay raise would encourage broader interest in the time-demanding position for those considering a campaign.
“We need to make sure enough citizens are able and willing to become school board members,” said Jane K. Strauss (Dranesville). “We don’t want to find, in time, the board only has members who have certain wealth.”
All 12 seats on the board are up for grabs in November, and under Virginia law the school board can approve salary increases only every four years before an election. If approved, the salary raises would take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, when the new board takes office. The next chance to alter school board salaries would be in 2019.
“It’s our only opportunity to do this during our four years,” said Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill). “I think we owe it to the next board. People may decide now to throw their hat in the ring and run.”
Of the 10 board members who participated in the pay-raise discussion, eight said in interviews that they are running again for school board. The other two present, Daniel G. Storck (Mount Vernon) and Kathy L. Smith (Sully), are campaigning for open spots on the County Board of Supervisors. Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) and Sandy Evans (Mason) were not at the Thursday meeting.
Board members acknowledged opposition to the salary increases among Fairfax residents. Moon’s first proposal called for pay raises that would have doubled board members’ salaries to $40,000. He said his revised plan for $37,500 was a compromise that still would provide board members with fair compensation.
Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) said many residents do not understand “the depth and breadth of the work that we have.” She noted that members attend multiple meetings each week as part of their board duties.
Patty Reed (Providence) said that she will not support salary increases for the board while the administration has failed to address lagging teacher pay in Fairfax.
“We have not been able to honor our employees with continued raises they deserve and projected deficits going forward,” Reed said, pointing out that the school board must close an expected $14 million gap in next year’s budget.
The school board did not vote on salary increases in 2011, the most recent election year. The board previously voted for pay raises in 2007, when members increased salaries to $20,000 from $12,000. Salaries jumped to $12,000 from $8,000 in 1999.
Leading a district of about 187,000 students, Fairfax School Board members currently earn about the same as their counterparts in neighboring jurisdictions.
School board members in Loudoun County earn the same as members in Fairfax. In Arlington, school board members earn $22,040 a year, and in Prince William County, school board members earn $12,000 a year.
In comparable districts across the country, pay for school board service has a wide range. In Hillsborough County, Fla., which includes Tampa, where the enrollment is more than 205,000 students, school board members earn $42,570 a year. In Nevada’s Clark County School District, which includes Las Vegas and has a student population of more than 318,000, school board members earn $750 a month.
But in three of the largest school systems — Chicago with 404,000 students, Houston with 203,000 students and Hawaii with 178,000 — school board members serve as unpaid volunteers.