By John Lovaas, Reston Impact Producer/Host
For some time I’ve thought our public school teachers in Fairfax County are undervalued and underpaid. This view is based on data I’ve seen in the last couple of years comparing teacher pay in public school systems in the Metro Washington suburbs. That data reflects that our Fairfax County teachers’ pay has steadily declined in recent years relative to that of their counterparts in other jurisdictions.
When I happened to glance recently at information on pay elsewhere in Fairfax County government, I found that hundreds of County employees are not suffering as our teachers are. In fact, the others are well paid by comparison.
Fairfax County firefighters and uniformed public safety (police and Sheriff’s deputies) personnel are doing much better than I had imagined. In many cases they are making nearly double what Fairfax County pays classroom teachers. At present, there are about 3,200 people serving as firefighters, police officers and sheriff’s deputies. Half of them made over $100,000 per year in 2016 when you include overtime, premium pay and the stipends they routinely receive.
Firefighters on average make the most, and arguably have less stressful work than cops or deputy sheriffs. Sixty-two percent of firefighters make over $100,000 per year, while 43 percent of police officers make $100,000 or more, and 35 percent of the Sheriff’s deputies make that much.
Very few teachers earn $100,000 or more, likely less than 5 percent.
Starting salaries for teachers, police officers, and firefighters are similar — in the low- to mid-$50,000 range. Sheriff’s deputies start at about $10,000 less.
There the similarities end. Among the ranks of the uniformed services, overtime at premium rates is routine and a major chunk of the total paycheck. Also, they take home several other forms of premium rate pay, e.g., callback, emergency, shift, and holiday pay. And there are several additional stipends. While teachers perform duties that parallel some of these premium pay categories, they rarely receive anything beyond their base salary.
This is not to say that uniformed police officers and sheriff’s deputies, or even firefighters, are overpaid. These are the folks who help keep us safe and, especially in the case of police officers, often put their lives in jeopardy doing so. It is hard indeed to over-value these services.
But, why is it that those to whom we entrust the education of our children and our country’s future are valued so much less by the Fairfax County School Board and Board of Supervisors? Unlike police, firefighters and deputy sheriffs, many of whom make over $100,000 per year, our teachers rarely can afford to even live in the communities where they teach because of their much lower incomes. This I just do not understand.
P.S. There are another 800-plus Fairfax County employees also making over $100,000 per year. They are the heads of departments, offices, and the many County semi-autonomous organizations — e.g. the Park Authority, Economic Development Authority, Housing Authority, etc. — as well as other well-paid denizens of the huge Fairfax County Government Center.