Students all across the county have begun counting down the days until they file into classrooms to try their best to stay attentive to their teachers. Whether teachers are paid enough to attract and maintain studentsÕ attention is a matter of debate.
It is no secret that teaching is far from one of the highest paid professions. However, in the Loudoun County Public Schools system, the starting teacher salary for the 2005-2006 school year is $39,600, for teachers fresh out of college with a bachelorÕs degree and no classroom experience.
Compare that number to the national average two years ago, $29,564, and that salary seems quite adequate. Compare it to VirginiaÕs average starting salary that same year, $31,414, or even that of Washington, D.C., $35,260, according to the American Federation of Teachers.
On the other hand, compare that number to other counties in the Washington, D.C. area such as Fairfax and Arlington counties.
BOASTING A starting teacher salary of $40,000, the Fairfax County Public School system has the third highest starting salary in the Washington, D.C., area right behind Arlington and Montgomery counties, where the salary is $40,816.
ÒWe are regionally competitive. We have to be sensitive to what is being offered all around the Beltway,Ó said Paul Regnier, spokesman for Fairfax County Public Schools. ÒWe heard that Loudoun County desired a higher starting teacher salary than us, so we raised our salary. To my understanding, you ended up not getting that higher salary.Ó
In April 2005, a $967 million operating budget passed by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors increased spending for schools and public safety but eliminated a proposed $7 million requested by the School Board for teacher salaries.
ÒItÕs just business as usual,Ó said Wayde Byard, public information officer for the Loudoun County Public Schools. ÒItÕs always a budgetary chess match between us and Fairfax.Ó
Before the Board of Supervisors cut the budget, Byard, along with many others in the public schools system, was hoping for a $40,000 starting salary but hit just $400 below that goal.
Paul Webb, acting director of Personnel Services for the Loudoun County Public Schools, compared salary proposals to ÒThe Price is Right.Ó ÒOur salary was out there first and then someone else always bids it plus a dollar,Ó he said.
ÒFairfax and us always see who will hit $40,000,Ó Byard said. ÒThe cost of living is slightly less [in Loudoun] so that compensates for it and our salaries for two- to three-year teachers went up 13 percent.Ó
Byard justified the raise in Fairfax County to the April 2005 Supplemental Appropriation Resolution passed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, which appropriated an additional $2.2 million to public school operating expenditures alone.
ÒThe Supplemental Appropriation Resolution was a factor,Ó said Mario Schiavo, Fairfax County Public Schools Budget Director. ÒBut the overriding factor was that weÕre in a metropolitan area. We have to compete with so many other jurisdictions.Ó
Competition drove Fairfax County Public SchoolsÕ starting salaries for teachers to raise from $36,887 to the magic number: $40,000.
ÒThereÕs an effort to raise the salary every year,Ó Byard said. ÒWe understand that weÕre in a competitive market.Ó Loudoun may not have hit the magic number but its $39,600 starting salary is an improvement from last yearÕs salary, $35,784.
THE QUESTION is not so much why FairfaxÕs teachers are receiving a higher salary; the question is whether or not it really makes a difference.
Schiavo believes that for a starting teacher, the gap between Loudoun and other counties can make or break a career choice. ÒPeople who are new to the area want to know where they can go,Ó he said. ÒNo one goes into this profession to become wealthy, so if they can pick up an extra $800-$1,000, why not?Ó
Webb, however, does not believe that $400 really makes a difference when a new teacher is deciding where to teach. ÒIt would be nice to be on the same level as Fairfax,Ó he said. ÒBut different people are attracted to different places for different reasons. Money is a factor, but it is not necessarily the only factor.Ó
In addition to the slightly higher salary, Fairfax offers many types of support for the new teacher, especially business support. Regnier said that, oftentimes, new teachers are offered rental breaks, the Federal Credit Union offers a $2,500 no-interest loan, and financial breaks on broadband cable and Internet connections.
ÒIt doesnÕt seem like it amounts to a lot, but to the beginning teacher it does,Ó Regnier said. ÒPeople just recognize quality when they come [to Fairfax]. ItÕs very professional here and we take care of our people.Ó
Webb said there are few business incentives for new teachers in the county other than foregoing rent deposits offered by some apartment complexes, but it is something he would be willing to explore.
ÒWe try to sell Loudoun County to our prospective teachers,Ó Webb said. ÒWe offer a very competitive starting salary. We are certainly competitive in that regard.Ó
Fairfax is hiring approximately 1,300 new teachers for its 166,275 enrolled students this school year, said Schiavo. The Fairfax County Public School system is the largest in Virginia and the 12th largest in the nation.
Loudoun County will have hired 720-750 new teachers for its 44,014 enrolled students this school year, said Webb. At that, it is the fastest growing school district in Virginia.
Byard said that, despite the fact that LoudounÕs starting teacher salary may be slightly below those around the Beltway, they always manage to attract teachers from counties west of Loudoun, where the salary is lower.
Loudoun and Fairfax both find it difficult to hire teachers in several fields, including the higher math and sciences, foreign languages and special education. ÒBut the entire nation is in that boat,Ó Byard said.