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Virginia Journal of Education

Union Power

Union members are fighting—and winning—in local budget debates around the state.

In local battles to secure funding that will ensure the state’s 5 percent teacher salary increase, and on a range of education issues, VEA members are standing up and speaking up, letting governing bodies know, in the strongest way they can, that schools and educators can no longer be neglected.

And, in finding their voice, they’re demonstrating our power.
Montgomery County Education Association members were a constant, dogged presence during the months the Board of Supervisors and School Board debated the budget for county schools, and will now reap the benefits of their efforts.
“We went to many meetings of both groups,” says MCEA President Matthew Fentress, “as well as having individual conversations with our superintendent and local politicians. Our members continued to advocate, both in person and through email.”
Late in the process, MCEA brought in a secret weapon: Delegate Chris Hurst, who addressed the Board of Supervisors while sporting an MCEA shirt.
“He was a rock star,” Fentress says.

 “Funding our schools and valuing our teachers is the fundamental core role of state and local government,” Hurst told county leaders. “School employees must be our priority in every budget we prepare on behalf of the taxpayer and it certainly should never be the first line item to start cutting just because it’s often the largest pool of money.”

When all the talking was over, the county’s School Board had kept its promise to MCEA and presented a 3.5 percent raise and no health insurance premium increase.

Fentress called it a “win for MCEA and a win for all of MCPS,” and noted that both Superintendent Mark Miear and more than one Board member said publicly that it wouldn’t have happened without the hard work of MCEA members.

Lynchburg Education Association members are celebrating, too. City Council there voted, by a paper-thin 4-3 margin, to fully fund LEA’s push for a 5 percent raise, also approving a step plan for staff, which guarantees increasing pay until employees reach the top of the pay scale.
“It took us three years,” says LEA President Karl Loos. “We created a compensation committee, laid the groundwork with the school board, created multiple proposals to present to school administration, spoke numerous times to the School Board and City Council about the need for pay increases, shared the struggles of our staff, held public events to bring the community into the discussion, built relationships with school leaders, got a seat at the table as new pay schedules were created, and advocated for the new pay schedules individually with candidates who became city council members.

“We kept up those relationships with council members and it helped sway a very tight vote,” he says. “Now, every LCS employee will earn a living wage!”

Winchester Education Association members will also enjoy raises beginning this summer:  3 to 6 percent for teachers and 3 to 8 percent for education support professionals.

“My biggest takeaway for local action is just to be consistent, positive, and try to work with whatever hand we are dealt,” says WEA President Michael Siraguse. “I've built positive relationships and really try to meet my local School Board and City Council members as individuals, in order to develop a personal relationship.”

In the past, WEA has also run an email campaign directed to City Council members. Earlier this year, Siraguse had a letter to the editor calling for salary increases published in the Winchester Star, telling the community, “We come in early, stay late, bring work home, and still manage to get a student to absorb and internalize thousands of ideas or actions in their journey from pre-K student to high school graduate.”

Email blasts, extensive use of both Facebook and Twitter, rep meetings, even videos were a big part of the effort made by members of the Fauquier Education Association, and they helped generate so much enthusiasm that more than 200 FEA representatives trekked to Richmond for VEA’s Fund Our Future rally in January.

“Some folks were most interested in the rally and march,” says FEA President Lauren Brill, “and others were excited about meeting legislators and lobbying. We definitely came to do both.”

 FEA made their presence known in Richmond and for months back home at School Board and Board of Supervisors meetings, public hearings, and work sessions. When the process wrapped up, all school employees had at least 5 percent raises.

In Henry County, HCEA members spent two years building their case and working hard to elect Board of Supervisors candidates who understood it, including the division’s former superintendent. HCEA also spent years working for a stronger school board, which now features six former educators among its seven members.

The results? An additional $400,000 for schools and a 4.5 percent raise for school employees, over two years, plus one step on the salary scale next year to make up for some previously lost ground. “Elections matter,” says Dorothy Carter, HCEA’s executive vice president. “When the right people are in office, HCEA's job is proactive rather than reactive.”

In York County, members also began advocating several years ago and, as a result, they got 3 percent raises last year. When the state put up money for a 5 percent raise this year, YEA members got their local leaders to pony up 3 percent more.

“Our focus right now is on ESP salaries,” says NEA Director and YEA member Carol Bauer, who notes that administrators are planning an increase of at least 4 percent for support professionals.

Other wins around the state include Prince William, where teachers got a 4.8 percent raise, and Giles County, where raises averaged 5 percent.

Stand-Up Women and Men Across the State

At press time, budgets were still being worked out in many Virginia communities and, as that process has unfolded, Union leaders were also raising their voices in public forums there. Here are a few examples:

What Kind of Schools Do You Want?
Rosemary Wagoner, president of the Waynesboro Education Association:

Many of our students’ families cannot make a living wage in Waynesboro. We need to attract business with good-paying jobs. In order to do this, we need high-quality schools. This is the first year that Waynesboro teachers are being paid the lowest salaries in our area. We can’t have high-quality schools if we continue to be the lowest paying school division in the region.

Keeping and being able to attract good teachers to Waynesboro is going to be increasingly hard, especially if we’re just one of a few divisions that do not take advantage of that state salary increase. We shouldn’t throw away money from the state, because we need to see if can find, as a community, a way to accept that money and finish that 5 percent that they’re offering to pay a portion of. I’m not saying this lightly…I know it’s going to be really hard. However, we can work with you to make that happen. We’re willing to do that.

The Waynesboro community needs to decide what type of schools it will provide for our youth.

Make a Statement!
Jeff Rudy, president of the Shenandoah County Education Association:

Meeting the governor’s 5 percent salary increase would fortify staff retention, heighten morale, ease the monthly burden on teachers and staff, and even encourage more highly-qualified applicants for bus drivers, teachers, and other needs in the county. The 5 percent is not just a number, but a statement to teachers and staff, here in Shenandoah County and surrounding communities, that SCPS is a leader in education in the Valley.

Teachers are being asked to do more and more outside of our contractual hours, tearing us away from our own families. We’re being asked to put on recitals and art shows, chaperone dances well into the evening, sponsor clubs, supervise bus duties, and stay late to monitor after-school detention—all without compensation.

Sadly, there are, in fact, SCPS employees currently working here whose entire paycheck is for health insurance. The insurance conundrum has been a huge concern for many of our members. But the SCEA is very appreciative of all your efforts and difficult decisions made in the best interest of SCPS, its employees, and most importantly, the students.

We Need the Meals Tax!
Christel Coman, president of the Campbell County Education Association, writing in the (Lynchburg) News & Advance. Campbell County voters later approved the meals tax, part of the proceeds of which are designated for schools.

Should Campbell County residents approve a meals tax? Seems to be a big debate about this fairly simple topic.
Anyone traveling down Wards Road where the hotels begin in Lynchburg and Bedford County will see a varied assortment of larger restaurants and smaller fast-food choices. They will also be able to see the crowded parking lots and even lines of people outside waiting to go in and be seated. The meals tax in Lynchburg does not seem to be a deterrent to business for those places. One could venture to say that few—if any—of the customers even thought about a meals tax when deciding to patronize these locations.

So how does this not make sense for Campbell County? Should we continue to give this revenue to other localities? Since going to a restaurant is a personal choice, if a meals tax bothers them, then don’t go. (It would be hard to believe that these same people who complain about a meals tax for Campbell County do not frequent the restaurants in Lynchburg.)

Vote “Yes” on the meals tax and bring this revenue where it belongs—to us, the residents of Campbell County.

We Need a Diverse Teaching Workforce
Kimberley Hundley of the Williamsburg-James City County Education Association:

I am retiring next year, and I do hope another teacher of color takes my place. We do need more people of color and more young men teaching in our schools. If you happen to know any young men, or any people of color, who happen to be in college right now, and hope to become teachers, reach out to us, we want you here. If they aren’t interested in coming here, ask them why, because we can’t elevate to excellence until we know what we need to work on to bring the best and brightest here.

How Long Will You Allow This to Go On?
Rhonda Wagner, president of the Newport News Education Association:

For the past few years, we’ve been looking at declining funding from the city so we’re really trying to play catch up. I feel that Dr. Parker had proposed a very fair budget and I really thought it was going be put through this year. I’m extremely surprised that, here again, we’re going to be in front of City Council trying to encourage them to fund the schools.

This is a movement going on across the country. We really need to start funding education. For the past 10 years, it has been on the back burner and we really need to change that especially for our kids.

I’m a parent also, and my children go to this school district. These children are going to be in the community. We want to keep them out of trouble, and one of the best ways we can do that is to fund their needs. We work very closely with these kids and the parents. We see parts of them that others don’t. They convey their dreams, their hopes, what their worries are.

You Must Set Priorities
Dr. Jessica Jones, president of the Pittsylvania Education Association, addressing school board members and members of the community attending school board meetings and board of supervisor’s public input sessions:

What is the thing we want the most? What is the thing we value the most? And, what do we want the most for our students, our children, our community, our future?

Pittsylvania’s Board of Supervisors ended up approving an additional $650,000 in school funding.

 ‘We Could Be the Best’
Reuben Siskin, president of the Augusta County Education Association

Many teachers and staff have done a superior job with what they have been given, and they have seen success in their students. Imagine what results we would have in Augusta County if we had the tools, the staff and the buildings other districts have? We could be the best.

We’ve Earned Professional Freedom
Emma Clark of the Chesterfield Education Association and a former Richmond teacher, on the city changing a policy that prohibited teachers from transferring to other schools in the division:
People need the flexibility as teachers to shift around and find the right place for them. Teachers need the right to transfer because you have to have some professional autonomy within your career.

Come and See
Rachel O’Mara-Paddock, a Stafford Education Association member:

Anybody who wants to argue what our classroom sizes are, anybody who wants to really know what’s going on in our schools—where our buildings are leaking and falling apart—come to our schools, ask to come and volunteer in a classroom and take a look around for yourself and see that what we’re asking for are the basic necessities that our students and our teachers deserve.

‘Prove Me Wrong!’
Lezley Wilson, president of the Pulaski County Education Association

I truly hope that what flashes through your minds this evening is that my assumptions are wrong and my fears are unfounded. That is my challenge to you: Prove me wrong!

I fear that the teacher raise enacted by the General Assembly will be left on the table for the education professionals of PCPS because there is not an allocation of local funds. Prove me wrong!

I fear that the security and safety of our children is not a priority. Leaving a new salary scale for our bus drivers unfunded will continue the loss of our drivers to localities with higher salaries and better benefits. Prove me wrong!

I fear that capital improvements to fortify the security of our buildings, and School Resource Officers for our elementary schools will not be funded, placing our children, staff, and structures at risk. Prove me wrong!
I fear that despite the slogans, new funding to demonstrate the importance and commitment to education in Pulaski County…to recruit, retain, and value our staff, and to provide for the safety of our children will not be forthcoming. Prove me wrong!


Commonwealth Coming Up Short

Virginia teachers not only continue to trail most of their colleagues around the country every payday, they are also losing ground to other Virginians with similar educations.

According to the NEA’s latest Rankings and Estimates report, our public school teachers are paid $8,483 less than the national average salary for teachers, leaving our state ranked 32nd in the U.S.

Inexplicably, these figures come at a time when Virginia is the 11th wealthiest state in America.

“How are we supposed to recruit and retain the very best, most committed educators, the ones our children deserve, if we don’t pay them well?” says VEA President Jim Livingston. “We know teachers aren’t in our schools to get rich, but why should they have to take second and even third jobs to support their families? That’s a disservice to students, families, educators, and the entire community.”

Further, a new study by the Economic Policy Institute that compared the salaries of college graduates in every state finds Virginia teachers earn 31.3 percent less in average weekly wages, adjusted for inflation, than other college graduates in the state. Only two other states had a worse “wage penalty” than Virginia, EPI found.

While Virginia’s General Assembly approved the state share of a 5 percent raise for teachers, some localities face shortfalls that leave them unable to make the required match of those state dollars, Livingston says: “To keep the best and brightest teachers in Virginia, we need a long-term commitment from the state plus more funding support for our localities, which have seen the state share of K-12 funding shrink since the recession. Our elected leaders need to commit to fund our future, and they need to do it now.”




Take action to boost K-12 funding and support better pay.


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