Superintendent Eric Williams has said for the past two years his goal is to gradually improve pay for the school system’s non-teaching positions, but it will take time.
The operating budget he’s drafted for next fiscal year recommends that school psychologists be next in line for significant raises. That’s in large part because Loudoun County has seen an exodus of school psychologists to Fairfax County and other school districts to the east that offer higher salaries, just as its working to bolster its mental health support for students.
But the school social workers, who often work in tandem with psychologists, are asking that they not be left behind. The social workers—along with psychologists, school counselors, and student assistance specialists—are part of the newly established mental health teams that have been created at every middle and high school in the county.
Williams’ spending plan includes a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase for social workers, along with every other classified, administrative, and auxiliary employees.
For psychologists, Williams’ recommended budget earmarks $977,000 to increase their salaries. He’s proposing two new “salary lanes” with a 20-step salary scale rather than a 25-step scale. Each step generally represents a year with the school division. That change would result in an average increase of 21.3 percent, or $16,536, for each step. For example, a psychologist at step five would be paid $69,403 each year, rather than $57,643; and one at step 10 would be paid $82,367 rather than $65,745.
“Even with these improvements, we still would not lead all of our comparators,” Williams said.
Six of the 11 people who spoke at Thursday night’s public hearing on the budget asked the board to consider raises for school social workers.
Karyn Walsh said a school social worker helped turn her special needs daughter’s life around. She was facing bullying and doubting her abilities in high school, and the school’s social worker encouraged her when she needed it most. “We knew our child could do it but somebody else saw it too,” Walsh said. “Whatever you can do for the social workers, as parents, we would greatly appreciate it.”
Nicolo Porto, a Potomac Falls High School graduate who now works as a social worker at Mercer Middle School, said he’s proud to work with an experienced team of social workers and psychologists. “But I fear the wealth of experience and talent in this department could go elsewhere.”
Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) asked Williams about his rationale behind recommending raises for psychologists but not social workers. “Their roles as defined by our job descriptions are remarkably similar.”
Williams said he understands the social workers sense of urgency. “We’re undergoing a multi-year process to look at the salaries, but we can’t look at all the positions at once,” he said. “The reason we chose psychologists this year is we saw significant increases in how much Fairfax County pays psychologists and many who turned down employment.”
Seven of the school system’s 43 psychologists left Loudoun County Public Schools from October 2017 to September 2018—more than double the attrition of the previous year. He also noted that eight candidates for psychologist positions declined offers for the current school year because of compensation.
Administrators are also studying social workers’ compensation, Williams said, but he expects the earliest they could get larger raises is next January, halfway through fiscal year 2020. The alternative is to shift money from elsewhere to try to provide them similar raises as phycologists.
Several other speakers also asked for better pay for both teachers and those in non-teaching positions, so employees can focus on students, not on a long commute or a second or third job. Ian Serotkin, who’s running for the Blue Ridge District seat on the School Board, urged the board to adopt a budget that makes it so every employee can afford to work and live in Loudoun.
“Propose a budget that we can point to and say, enthusiastically and without reservations, yes, this meets all the needs of all of our students,” he said. “Our English-language learners, our students with disabilities, our gifted students, everyone in-between, lifting the entire community up, together.”
The School Board is scheduled to adopt its budget Feb. 5 and present it to the Board of Supervisors as a formal funding request Feb. 11.