- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2001

As teachers protested for higher pay outside, Fairfax County (Va.) School Board chairman Jane Strauss presented a $1.49 billion school budget for fiscal 2002 to the Board of Supervisors last night.
The proposed budget, which includes a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for teachers, is already $23 million higher than projected county and state revenues. School officials also have a list of unfunded needs totaling $22.2 million that was not included in the proposed budget. That list includes another 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment.
The Board of Supervisors has been holding hearings since Monday on its $2.3 billion budget, and will vote on it April 23. Yesterday, supervisors said they realized that teachers' salaries were a priority, but they were limited by their own budget.
Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn, Dranesville District, said teachers were the most important part of the education system and the board was hoping to meet teacher's demands "halfway."
However, he said, the school system should find some ways to cut funding from within. "In a $1.5 billion budget, they should be able to find something," he said.
Fairfax County schools Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech said the Board of Supervisors had shown "a willingness to help," but added that he did not know yet "how big that help will be."
If demands to raise teachers' salaries are not met, Mr. Domenech said, "There is not much we can do. We don't have the money. We need to be competitive to retain teachers, and if we don't get the money, we can't be."
Teachers are asking for a 6 percent raise this year, while the budget put forward by the School Board includes a 2 percent raise and the additional 2 percent raise under unfunded needs.
Teachers said neighboring counties like Loudoun offer better salaries and signing bonuses, and are luring teachers away.
Mrs. Strauss pointed out that the current budget included no new programs or expansions, but if they did not get the required money from the Board of Supervisors by May, "we will need to look at how we can cut expenses."
Richard Baumgartner, president of the Fairfax Education Association, said they might consider extending the work-to-the-rule if teachers did not get their 6 percent increase.
All this week, teachers at 174 schools in the county are working only 7 and 1/2-hour days the time they are paid for cutting back on after-school activities and taking work home.
"We are trying to do this without hurting students," Mr. Baumgartner said, adding, however, that the county needed to look at its priorities.
"Almost every day I hear about a teacher who's leaving," he said, adding that if schools were not funded, they would deteriorate.
"We have a crisis in Fairfax County," said Janet Vogel, a counselor in Floris Elementary.
She said as many as 24 teachers at the school had left in the past year, often lured by higher salaries being offered by neighboring counties like Loudoun.
"Montgomery County is already paying more than Fairfax, and they are offering teachers 5 percent each year for the next three years," said Rick Nelson, president of the Fairfax Federation of Teachers. His own union, Mr. Nelson said, had voted in favor of a work-to-the-rule "for as long as it takes."
Asked about the possible harm to students resulting from curtailed activities, Mr. Nelson replied, "Students are being harmed now because issues are not being addressed," he said.

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