Until recently, Mary Anderson was an instructional assistant in the autism program at Wakefield Forest Elementary.
Unable to afford to live in Fairfax County, she commuted 70 miles round trip from her home in Maryland. She has worked for the school system for nine years.
Anderson was “de-staffed” from Wakefield at the end of last month and now has to wait until the county school system finds her another job.
As the public school system continues to grapple with a budget shortfall, Superintendent Jack Dale is proposing cutting the annual cost of living adjustment for all school staff from 3 percent to 2 percent, saving the school system $17.5 million.
That kind of cut, Anderson said, was like pouring salt in an open wound.
“I once owned my own home, but like many Americans I lost my home to foreclosure. And now you’re telling me I am going to fall even farther behind. All of this while I am employed by one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, a county I can’t even afford to live in to begin with,” Anderson said in her plea to the school board at its budgetary public hearing last week.
More than 70 speakers rose to the occasion, some presenting figures and solutions, others pleading for the board to be humane, that competition for better teachers will diminish if they are not properly compensated.
“A 2-percent COLA is a pay cut in real terms,” said Leonard Bumbaca, president of the Fairfax Education Association. “The real cost of living imposes inelastic, non-negotiable demands on all employees, especially the most vulnerable new teachers, young families and support professionals. These people are teaching and working their hearts out to meet the most basic needs of gas, food and lodging.”
Another proposed cut would reduce the number of general education instructional assistants, cutting 56 positions and saving $1.8 million.
“Who helps the child who has fallen behind after he has fallen ill from chemo? We do … Who will fill this void?” asked Regina Galie, an instructional assistant at Cherry Run Elementary School.
Another cut would increase the number of students in general class education classes by 0.5 percent, saving $11 million and 158 teaching positions.
“Food prices have increased dramatically. Gas prices are sky-high. … Go beyond number crunching and see the faces of these people” who will be affected by the school board’s decision, said Margaret Panik, an instructional assistant at Bren Mar Park Elementary School.
Perhaps the best received suggestions of the evening came from Emma Pierson, a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Pierson compared Fairfax County staff figures to the leaner staffs in Montgomery County Public Schools.
While the ratio of vice principals to students in Montgomery County is one to every 533 students, the ratio for FCPS is one vice principal for every 370 students, Pierson said, concluding that a reduction in vice principals and also central office staff would save the county millions.
Pierson received a standing ovation from the crowd and a few smiles from the school board and staff.
The school board will vote on its revised budget on Thursday, May 22, and the new policies will be implemented on July 1.