Local: Education

Gov. McDonnell proposes 2 percent raise for Virginia teachers

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Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

Gov. Bob McDonnell said he would earmark $58.7 million for a 2 percent salary increase for Virginia teachers next year in exchange for less job security for those very same teachers.

It's a plan that wasn't well-received Thursday in Northern Virginia, where most of the raises would still come out of the county's pocket and where teachers say they are still adjusting to recent changes to the way they are evaluated.

But McDonnell came armed with the support of the state's school boards, principals and parent-teacher associations, as well as the Chamber of Commerce, as he rolled out the first leg of his K-12 legislative agenda on Thursday.

"Virginia's teachers are underpaid," McDonnell said. "Everyone knows a teacher who has stayed after school, worked with students during their lunch break and on weekends and devoted all of their energy to making sure their students have every possible chance to learn."

The average public school teacher's salary in Virginia is $48,761, putting the commonwealth in the bottom half of the country and about $15,000 behind Maryland. But the average salary in Northern Virginia is much higher: $64,813 in Fairfax County, $72,997 in Arlington and $72,734 in Alexandria.

Local districts could opt out of the pay-raise plan, which requires the school systems to match Virginia's contribution. But what wouldn't be optional is passage of the Educator Fairness Act, which McDonnell says must be approved by the legislature for him to provide the $58.7 million for salary increases. The act would require teachers to work for five years, rather than three, before earning tenure. Perhaps most significantly, the act defines incompetence as including "one or more unsatisfactory performance evaluations" and would "define the relationship between the evaluation and the contract."

Last year, McDonnell's bill to eliminate teacher tenure died in the General Assembly.

"We're not doing away with teacher tenure as was done last year, but there is a better defining of what an incompetent teacher is and that's important," said Sen. Steve Martin, R-Chesterfield, chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee. "As great as so many of our teachers are doing, the reason there is such thing as an average teacher is because there are just as many doing below average as above average."

Kris Amundson, a policy analyst for independent think tank Education Sector, and a former chairwoman of the Fairfax County School Board, said the plan won't win easy support from Northern Virginia systems. Unlike more rural districts, the Washington area is not reliant on the state for paycheck money -- most of its budgets come from the local school systems. Fairfax County's School Board already is supporting a 1 percent cost-of-living raise for teachers, although it's ruling out a 2 percent step increase.

Steven Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said teachers are still reeling from changes to their evaluations put in place this year. Teachers without tenure are now required to provide extensive documentation that they are doing good work.

Extending the number of years teachers would have to do these reports "pulls teachers away from actually working with kids because they're spending all their time doing paperwork," Greenburg said.

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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