The Washington Post

Members Weigh 67% Pay Raise

1st Increase in 8 Years Aimed at Drawing More Candidates

- By Michael Alison Chandler Staff writer Nelson Hernandez contribute­d to this report.

The Fairfax County School Board is scheduled to vote tonight on a 67 percent raise for its members, which, if approved, would be the board’s first salary increase in eight years.

Board members interviewe­d yesterday said the raise, which would take their annual pay from $12,000 to $20,000 ($22,000 for the chairman), would make the job accessible to more county residents. An unofficial list from the Fairfax County Office of Elections showed that as of June 6 only five of the 10 board members seeking reelection in November were facing opposition.

Board member Jane K. Strauss (Dranesvill­e) said guiding the nation’s 13th-largest school district, with 164,000 students and a $2.2 billion annual budget, sometimes requires 60 hours of work a week. For working parents, “it does cut into one’s ability to support one’s own family,” she said. Strauss is running unopposed for reelection.

“It would be very unfair to have a School Board in Fairfax made up of only those who are independen­tly wealthy,” she said.

Virginia law requires that such compensati­on decisions be made in an election year. If approved, the raise would take effect in January, when the new board assumes office.

Strauss said it’s “a sensitive issue” for elected officials to talk about money when their work is considered public service. She said that the school system pays for a phone line and a computer, as well as a shared administra­tive assistant to help members but that there is not much help beyond that.

“It’s not an issue we like to address because we like to make sure dollars are going to the classroom,” she said.

And they have avoided the conversati­on for a long time: The last increase was in 1999, when the pay went from $8,000 to $12,000. The previous increase was in 1987, when the pay was $5,500.

One reason board members chose to take up the matter this year is that neighborin­g school systems have boosted salaries recently.

The Loudoun County School Board approved a pay raise this year for members, to $20,000 from $12,000, and it will finalize the chairman’s salary next week, said board clerk Christine E. Coleman.

Prince William County School Board salaries, as of 2001, were $12,000 for members and $13,100 for the chairman. Montgomery County school board members earn $18,500 a year, and the board president makes $22,500. Prince George’s County board members make $18,000, with the chairman paid an extra $1,000.

A staff report from the Fairfax school system indicated that the proposed compensati­on would still amount to a lower hourly wage than is earned by the lowest-paid employee in the county.

Board member Brad Center (Lee) said he typically works 25 to 35 hours a week for the school system, on top of his full-time job at a consulting firm. Most of the work is done outside of the twice-monthly School Board meetings, he said. He is more often visiting schools, meeting with officials and parents, responding to e-mails, and going to budget sessions, disciplina­ry hearings and community meetings. Center also is running unopposed.

He supports the raise, he said, although he will be out of town for tonight’s vote. “The truth is that nobody does it for the salary,” he said.

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