Yesterday, BTW asked for the stories of Stafford County teachers who left or are thinking about leaving for greener pastures. Considering the quick turnaround required and the relative size of the blog, we got quite a few responses. I would like to thank each and every one of you for sharing your experiences to help shed some light on this issue.
Before we get into those stories, I would like to say that the members of the School Board are public servants who, I believe, truly want the best for Stafford County’s teachers and for all of SCPS employees. However, they can only do so much with what they have. They do not hold the purse strings, the Board of Supervisors fund the schools. They are the ones who put the SB in the position of having to consider the elimination of teacher raises in the first place by not funding the SCPS budget gap.
And why did they not fund it, or at least come anywhere near close to doing so? Well, when a BoS member tells a SB member that everything with the budget must have been ok since no one showed up to any BoS meetings to ask for them to fill the gap, I think that says a lot. The community has a lot of pull when it comes to making things happen and when we don’t show up, our elected officials do what they want. There is plenty of blame to go around, please think of that before you throw stones.
Unfortunately, blame doesn't put food on the table, it is the teachers who pay for the inaction of the rest of us. Here are the stories from the teachers, unedited, in their own words...
"I am a current employee at Stafford Co. As a single mom with a single income, my son and I live in a hotel room and per the state are considered homeless. I can't afford to rent an apartment because just a basic apartment without utilities, water, sewer, and garbage would take more than half of my bring home. With my background and certification I am considering leaving the county. They increase our class sizes, continue to build housing, and the expectations that have for us but don't want to pay. All the buildings are bursting at the seams. We are NOT providing the youth of Stafford County the best education because the turnover in the classroom impacts it. Every time a new teacher is hired, they have to re-start from fresh and may not have the experience or resources to be an amazing teacher."
"I left my teaching position in Stafford County in 2007. When I left, it was to make more money and endure less stress. That turned out to be a decision I don't regret (even though I cherish the fond memories of the people who I worked with and students I taught). I should be counted in that national attrition number -- someone who found that teaching as a profession did not repay me for what it took out of me. But Stafford has a bigger problem that may not be evident in the statistics but is easy to uncover if you just survey who is leaving and where they are going. Teachers who leave to go to PWC, Fairfax, DC, and Spotsy are leaving because of salary, benefits and/or working conditions. Who can blame someone for opting to make thousands more (I have heard as much as 14K) in raises to work 10 -30 miles away? To add insult to injury teachers silently endure seeing other benefits being threatened or whittled away like rising healthcare premiums, increased workloads, constant turnover and additional training that it requires and revoking the benefit of having your child who has special needs attend the school close by where you teach? And every year, the parents who love to tell each of their kids' teachers that they they love and appreciate them to their face then sit back and tacitly accept that the county budget is going to be balanced on teacher's backs and will tacitly allow promises to be broken by local government. Sorry for the rant. But someone needs to advocate for teachers in our county."
"My frustration is that as a single person, all of my salary goes to living expenses. It costs a lot to live in Stafford. As a result I am having a lot of trouble saving for retirement."
"I'm a 26 year veteran teacher. All of those years have been in Stafford County. Do I feel undervalued? You bet I do! With my years of experience, I am stuck here year after year without a modest increase in salary. I make less this year than last year. I love teaching, but I can't wait to leave!"
"My daughter was raised in Stafford County, attended Stafford County public schools then went to VCU in Richmond for college. She now teaches Music Ed. in Chesterfield County. She had no desire to teach in Stafford County because her starting salary in Chesterfield is higher and cost of living is lower in the Richmond area. As a former real estate agent, I know she would not be able to find decent, affordable housing in Stafford County."
"I loved my first two years teaching at Moncure Elementary School! I think I would have stayed had my special education class had not been involuntarily moved due to space crunch. I made it 2 more years before my exodus to PWCS. That was in 1990. I loved SCPS and value the professionals who stayed so my daughter could bloom under their guidance. I have a niece who is interviewing for a teaching position now, but not in Stafford. Something has to give people!"
"I left a few years ago, got out of teaching, my wife is sticking around. Another one of the sad issues is the somewhat lack of support from the community and parents in Stafford County. Redistricting and a new school calendar seem to be more important to parents than keeping qualified, motivated and caring teachers in the classroom. I thought Stafford was one of the "rich counties"? Stafford does not have the population that Fairfax has, but there is money here and the county does not spend it on education."
"I left at the end of last school year to go to another county. I didn't leave for money. In fact, I took about a $2000 cut in pay. I left because I wanted to get out of the high stress of Stafford. I was tired of having 27 in a classroom. This year I have 20!!! The county I now work for is more laid back. They also have things put into place that help give me extra time for planning and gathering of materials. For example, the specialists (I teach elementary) teachers come and pick up and return my students when it is their specials time. This district also has recess monitors, which gives me an additional 25 minutes each day to get done the things I need to accomplish. I also like that we have the A,B,C,D, and F grading system. While at times I do miss the standard-base, it is so much easier and quicker to complete my report cards. Again, another way I feel that I have been given more time. I also left a principal that played favorites and was quite intense to work for. While Benson may say that his climate survey is helpful, I found it was not. People were not truly forth-coming when answering questions. Also, many who wanted to speak up did not. Because of that real change did not occur."
"It is time they realize that people are leaving because of the money. I'm leaving because of the money. They need to understand that they may have bodies in the classroom but the northern counties that pay more aren't taking our worst teachers; they're taking our best teachers. We train first year teachers 3 to 5 years and if they're good they leave. I just finished my PhD. I was going to make an additional $400 a year for having done so. It wasn't enough. We won't be able to hire and keep the best of what's available unless we become competitive."
"I spent all of my elementary years in Stafford as a child (k-6). When I finished college I decided to come
home. I'm finishing my second year in county now and I am beyond disappointed by my whole experience. I have a BA in art and teaching and a masters degree in teaching. I'm licensed to teach preK-6, and just need 3 more classes to have my special education endorsement as well. Despite this, I can't afford to pay my rent and making a living by myself in the area I teach in. Not to mention my insurance plan being messed up now. I regret coming to Stafford to teach. I know for a fact my pay would be better just about everywhere else- including further south. How sad that the county goes out to colleges and job fairs in the state and advertise that they are a "northern Virginia" county but not give us the pay. I'm hoping to be gone by the end of this year to ANY county that pays more."
"I am one of the 267 that left 2 years ago... making about $10,000 more a year by driving one county to the north."
"The school board has known for years that they aren't paying our teachers enough. It's time to cut something out and pay the teachers better. I retired 8 years ago in June and they haven't really had a pay increase in that time. Stop with the excuses and figure out a way!"
"Stafford County is losing teachers in droves, and we’re having a hard time recruiting them. The last couple of years felt like the tides were beginning to turn, but now, when the budget has to be balanced, it is once again painfully apparent that teachers are not valued by stakeholders in this county. It is ironic, perhaps, that this debate over salaries falls during a time when the county is getting ready to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. Additional compensation for our teachers is long overdue, and many dedicated teachers in this county have spent years without raises, or even compensation for experience. Now they are being treated as though it is greedy to ask for more."
Finally, from a teacher who holds a Master's Degree..
"I am pretty financially responsible. My monthly take home pay after taxes is approx. $2,600/mo. After living expenses (rent/utilities, etc), insurances, car/student loan payments and the like are met, I'm left with approx. $300 of my monthly salary to carry me through the ENTIRE month. That's before groceries (I am currently budgeted to afford eating 1 decent meal per day, which is dinner; I usually make it through my teaching day on a coke and a small snack), gas, unforeseen medical emergencies/flat tires/you name it. I haven't been able to buy any new clothing since I started working for SCPS, save for a suit I purchased for my interview nearly 4 years ago (I have become quite the seamstress since.)
Like many of my colleagues, I believe I meet and exceed the standard of being a "highly qualified teacher." I work with an administration that showers me with support and advocacy; I work with a teaching and support staff who humble me daily by their level of dedication and professionalism; I work with a group of students who make me excited to show up to work every morning.
However, with the lack of financial support SCPS is projecting regarding salaries, especially for my more tenured colleagues, I am starting to struggle daily with the realization that I may not be able to continue in this profession much longer. My life's passion, and the essence of by being, is music. It's hard for me to imagine doing anything other than teaching music to children; but as the numbers stand when aligned with SCPS action towards salaries/compensation and the amount of effort we are all putting in beyond our contracts, the outlook for many of us is not positive. Our profession is supposed to be just that: a field made up of properly trained and treated professionals, not martyrs.
This is my struggle as a single teacher with no children; how difficult are our single teachers with children struggling?"
Thank you again for sharing your stories. For our part, BTW will be on the case from the beginning of the school year next year. We will keep you apprised of all developments and let you know when it's time to make your voices heard, while they can still make a difference.