By Joel Block
As we enter the City’s budget season for the schools, I think there is a fact all Falls Church City citizens should know. We are losing teachers to Arlington.
We are losing some of our best teachers to Arlington simply because they pay more. And we aren’t getting the best teachers each year to replace them, because Arlington is getting them, too.
It is true. They pay so much more it makes that much of a difference. On average, these teachers saw an $8,000-$12,000 increase simply by making the move.
In the last six years, I can personally name two special education teachers, two math teachers, one science teacher, one speech pathologist, two guidance counselors and one principal that we have lost to Arlington just from the building that I worked. All other schools in Falls Church City Public Schools are losing teachers to Arlington, also.
I love Falls Church City schools. I care about my students and I concern myself with anything that gets in the way of their learning. Right now, Arlington County is getting in the way.
It wasn’t always this way. In my 13th year of teaching, it was so competitive to get a job in Falls Church City I sat through a day-long job fair just to get a chance to interview. There I was, a veteran Fairfax County teacher, the Oakton High School Teacher of the Year and department chair, just hoping there was enough time in the day for Falls Church City Schools interviewers to get through the line to reach me.
Now, because of the pay gap, the waiting line is at the Arlington Job Fair, and they are ten times the size of Falls Church City Schools. That line doesn’t take place in Falls Church City any more. And even some our new hires are looking to leave us for Arlington on their first day. At Mary Ellen Henderson we trained a student teacher in math, offered him a job, and lost him to Arlington. Because of the trouble filling this one math position the students are on their second teacher of this year. We haven’t even been able to fill a foreign language position this year because we can’t find quality people to apply.
There are stories like this in all of our schools. Our pay gap with Arlington is so extreme we need a four-year plan just to catch up with where their pay scale used to be.
I have been extremely lucky. I am old enough that tuition prices didn’t cripple my future nor control my career path. I was lucky enough to work in the corporate world, at a corporate salary before entering teaching. When I made the choice to leave accounting and become a teacher, I didn’t have student loans and other debt to pay. I was lucky to buy a house before rents and home prices in our area became so prohibitive many teachers can no longer afford to live here. Yet, even a lucky guy like me works seven days a week; five in our schools and the weekend days at my second job. That’s in addition to the school work I take home. This is what a lucky older teacher needs to do, just to make ends meet in Falls Church.
Our younger teachers went to college knowing they wanted to teach and took out student loans to make it possible. They have debt and every dollar makes a difference. More of them than you can imagine now have to commute over an hour each way to homes they can afford on a Falls Church City salary. Think about that – when we make an announcement about a delay or closing because of the snow, many were already on their way to work.
This is where the proverbial buck stops. These are major deciding factors for everyone, not just educators; quality of life, time on the road, time with family.
If I worked in Arlington, I would earn more than both of my jobs; two fewer days for more money. That’s a big choice for a teacher to make and especially a big choice for a parent to make. Actually it’s a big choice for anyone to make. I have chosen to stay because I love Falls Church and our schools. Although, it is getting financially difficult.
It’s no secret Falls Church City schools are at the heart of Falls Church City. The high quality of education and small classes define this town. This is not the time to let the teacher flight to Arlington redefine the legacy of this “Little City.” It is time to keep our teachers with commensurate pay to other jurisdictions so we can keep them in Falls Church where they belong; making Falls Church City Public Schools great.
Joel Block is an eight grade math teacher and chair of the Falls Church City Public Schools Professional Educators Advisory Council.