Loudoun Superintendent Eyes Teacher Pay Hikes as Budget Priority

Talk of Fairfax County boosting teachers’ pay has Loudoun school leaders looking to keep up as they try to attract and retain experienced educators.

Loudoun County Public Schools recruits and hires more teachers than any school system in Virginia, to provide for the additional 3,000-plus students it enrolls each year. But Fairfax County is attracting applicants with more experience, and pay may be a factor, Assistant Superintendent of Finance E. Leigh Burden told School Board members this week.

“We have anecdotal data from our principals that they see a lot of rookie applicants and they don’t see a lot of experienced teachers looking to come work here,” she said.

What’s more, if Fairfax follows through with another round of raises, Burden estimates a Fairfax teacher with a master’s degree will make $260,000 more in her 30-year career than a Loudoun teacher with a master’s degree.

Superintendent Eric Williams told School Board members during a work session Tuesday that he wants to set aside as much as $27.2 million next fiscal year for pay raises for teachers, in an effort to keep pace with nearby jurisdictions. That would equate to a raise of roughly $4,184 per teacher, on average.

The request would be in line with the School Board’s goal in recent years to improve pay, especially for mid-level teachers, where Loudoun trails behind its neighbors. But to continue making notable progress, it would likely require a countywide tax increase.

School Board member Jeff Morse (Dulles) agreed that improving teachers’ pay is a goal worth pursuing, but said it may be hard to convince the Board of Supervisors, which holds the county’s purse strings, to fund a budget that could give teachers as much as a 6 percent pay increase.

“That’s a significant increase across the board. That’s something we’re going to struggle with justifying when we go to the Board of Supervisors,” Morse said.

Several board members said that pay is only one factor that will keep teachers in Loudoun. Morale, benefits and providing services like mentoring programs also have proven effective in retaining employees, they said.

Most teachers could earn more working in the private sector, noted Joy Maloney (Broad Run), who was a teacher and now works as an IT professional. “Certainly, it is job satisfaction that keeps them here.”

Many of the county’s 6,000 teachers are women of “child-bearing age,” Beth Huck (At Large) pointed out. “So a lot of the time compensation isn’t enough for them to afford child care,” she said. “If we could pay them a little more for them to afford child care, that might be something to consider.”

Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and Debbie Rose (Algonkian) cautioned their colleagues to be careful to not get caught up in a “keeping up with the Joneses” scenario. “Is it just simply whatever Fairfax does we’re supposed to do, rather than a focus on what our needs are here, inside of our budgetary constraints,” Rose asked.

The school system has made progress over the past few years to improve pay for educators in the middle of their career. But Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) agreed with Williams that there is still work to be done.

“I do think we have evidence to suggest we have a higher resignation rate in some areas,” he said. “… If we don’t continue to make improvements, we will lose ground.”

Williams said that pay certainly is not the only factor teachers consider when choosing a school district, but it is a big one. “There are other steps that need to be a part of recruitment and retention,” he said, “but this certainly is one part.”

The superintendent said a request for pay raises will be part of his budget proposal, which he will present in full on Jan. 12.