Deana Johnston set a course to become a Loudoun County elementary schoolteacher even before she heard the starting salary might be an unprecedented $40,000 annually.
“I was very excited,” she said Monday. “I was hoping it would happen in time for when I graduate.”
Johnston, a sophomore at Radford College, was in Park View High School’s Class of 2003. She also was the school’s first Teacher Cadet Student of the Year. Her Mother, Geri Johnston, is a teacher’s assistant at Park View.
Deana Johnston said she decided to set her sights on Loudoun, because it already had one of the highest pay scales in the state. The new starting salary would be the icing, she said. “It was just a bonus. And their schools are really good. There are always new schools being built.
“There is always a demand. The benefits are good too. There are a lot of perks working in Loudoun County.”
The decision to become a teacher, though, had more to do with the heart. “I just love working with kids. They are so fun.”
THE PROPOSED $40,000 salary remained intact last week when the School Board approved a $536.2 FY06 budget. The spending plan now goes to the Board of Supervisors, which will either give its support or send it back with a mandate for more cuts.
Eighty-eight percent of the budget has been devoted to salaries and benefits. It also includes additional pay for teachers working toward or having earned advanced degrees and an average classified pay raise of 8.7 percent.
In December, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Edgar Hatrick recommended increasing the starting pay from $35,784 to $40,000, which would mark the highest in the greater Metropolitan area. The increase would help attract the estimated 800 to 900 new instructors needed in the fall. With rising student enrollment, the necessity for teachers has grown in recent years. Loudoun County Public Schools hired 725 new teachers for this school year. Enrollment is expected to reach 47,467 students by FY06, up from 19,967 in FY96.
The board also reduced the step increases, which are based on satisfactory performance, for new teachers during their first five years in the district. The overall salary increases still will be significantly larger during those five years than the current pay. The step increases would range from a low of 2.5 percent for administrators to a high of 4 percent for teachers. The spending plan calls for an average teacher pay hike of 8.2 percent, including the step increases.
School Board Chairman John Andrews said he and his colleagues put the emphasis on salaries instead of new programs. “If we can provide the best quality teachers in the classroom, that will have more impact than new initiatives,” he said. “Loudoun wants the best and brightest teachers to come here.”
J. Warren Geurin (Sterling) applauded the pay hikes for teachers and classified staff, but objected to a 15 cents budget increase in lunches. “Most of our students come from middle class families who work hard, pay their taxes … These families do not qualify for free or reduced price schools lunches, but their family incomes are not so high that they can easily afford a more expensive school lunch.”
He expressed concern that some students will go hungry.
Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) objected to the board’s decision not to cap the top level salaries of school personnel. “The job of teacher should have a fair pay scale, not one where a young teacher with 28 children in a class earns $40,000 in Ashburn and a veteran with eight children in a class earns $88,000 in Middleburg,” he said. “That is not fair nor is it a prudent way to distribute county resources.”
The budget represents a 16.7 percent increase over the current FY05 budget. It also reflects a $3.2 million reduction from Hatrick’s proposed budget. The current spending plan will have an estimated $500,000 surplus, which will be returned to the supervisors to use at their discretion.
THE SCHOOL BOARD supported $970,000 in cuts by:
* Reducing positions of employees who are not based at any one school by 10 percent at a savings of $299,000. Spokesman Wayde Bayrd said new and old jobs would not be filled to meet this objective. No one would be laid off.
* Reducing the sick leave payout granted to retirees who did not use all of their sick leave from 30 percent to 20 percent at a savings of $200,000.
* Recalculating the estimated fuel inflation from $2.50 to $2 per gallon, saving $623,625.
* Cutting $30,000 from the advertising budget used to hire administrators, teachers and classified staff. The increase in the new teacher’s starting pay should provide enough of an incentive to compensate the reduction, board members said.
* Decreasing the Personnel Services budget by $599,417.
* Adding 15 cents to the cost of school lunches at a savings of $368,980. That amount would be applied to cafeteria personnel fringe benefits.
* Increasing the salary scale for classified personnel by 1 percent, at a cost of $600,000.
* Increasing the salary scale for teachers working toward or having earned advanced degrees, at a cost of $551,000.
The School Board will ask the supervisors to transfer $414,080,853 in tax money to cover the budget; the rest of the money will come from state and federal aid.
If last year is any indication, the board members will have to reduce the budget even further. The supervisors, which required $7.2 million in cuts in the FY05 budget, set limits on spending, but they cannot control where to make the reductions.
Supervisor Chairman Scott York said he would have to review the budget before commenting on its merit. He said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the conservative budget total, which was $75 million increase over the current spending plan.
Mick Staton (R-Sugarland) said he also would hold off on making any specific recommendations about the budget. “I will be looking to cut the tax rate significantly this year. Not one or two cents,” he added.
Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) said he has studied Hatrick’s proposed budget and the board’s review. “They attack obesity, but they need to go through the diet plan,” he said. “The School Board leadership and the school administrators would have you believe everywhere there are problems, and we need a shotgun approach involving millions of dollars, wasting millions of dollars.”