Free Lance-Star reporter Amy Umble covers Stafford County schools and other education issues

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Stafford teachers feel undervalued and argue for more pay

Stafford County teachers appreciate that the School Board has made fattening employee paychecks a priority in the upcoming budget discussion. But now it’s time for board members to put their money where their mouths are, teachers said at last night’s public hearing on the budget. A handful of teachers and one bus driver came to the public hearing to advocate for raises and they told the board that it is “demoralizing”  and “insulting” to not receive pay increases.

Seth Bixler told the board that he was working in a steel mill when he was recruited to be an English teacher at Stafford High School. Bixler took a pay cut to become a teacher, and he passed up other more lucrative teaching job offers, he said, because Stafford schools seemed to offer regular raises. But in the past few years, he has rarely seen a boost in pay.

Clay Shesman, a fourth-year math teacher at Stafford High, said that his paycheck has actually decreased in the past few years because of higher benefits costs.

“Improvement needs to be rewarded; as we improve, our pay should increase,” he told the School Board.

Autumn Dalton, an English teacher at Stafford High, said that not giving raises “sends the message that experienced educators are optional.”

She continued, “Teachers are under more intense scrutiny and asked to do more than ever before…we are spread thin and under constant scrutiny.”

School Board Chairwoman Stephanie Johnson agreed that teachers have more work to do than ever and are struggling with new evaluation requirements. But she said that it is often hard for the school division to find the money for raises.

“I personally value teachers quite a bit,” she said. “Is it shown in their pay scale? No.”

But she emphasized that the board’s top priority this budget season is making Stafford’s teacher pay competitive with nearby school divisions’ salaries.

According the Virginia Department of Education reports, the average Stafford teacher makes $53,947 a year. The average Prince William County teacher makes $59,045. In Spotsylvania, the average teacher earns $51,498.

Stafford’s starting teachers earn lower than starting teachers in the area. A first-year Stafford teacher with a bachelor’s degree earns $36,322. In Spotsylvania, the same teacher would earn $37,959. And in Prince William, $43,612.

The Stafford School Board has made boosting that pay on the lower salary scales a priority. The two scenarios the board is investigating would bump up the pay of all employees.

Teachers at last night’s meeting warned the board members that if they don’t boost pay, they will continue to see teachers leave for more lucrative jobs in other school divisions.

“Fantastic teachers have already left your schools because of low pay,” Dalton said last night.