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Loudoun County school staff pleads for a ‘living wage’

Superintendent Eric Williams will present his fiscal 2019 budget to the School Board in January. File Photo
When Matthew Frisicaro felt something was wrong with his life, he decided to make a change. He switched from a career in business to a job as a teaching assistant in an autism class at Loudoun County High School. Though he has never felt more fulfilled, he says he's being forced to leave his job because it doesn't pay a livable wage.

“In February, I’ll be in Daegu, South Korea, teaching English, making $8,000 more a year, having my housing paid for as well. I’ll be able to save $15,000 to 17,000 a year,” Frisicaro said.

Andrew Smith also works as a teaching assistant at Loudoun County High School, and while he too loves his work, he is struggling to get by. Smith says he makes $6,000 less than the minimum required to qualify for the county’s affordable housing program.

“Our program, our kids require structure. They require consistency. It’s vital to their growth and their education. I don’t want to be forced to have to leave something I have finally found my place in life to do,” Smith said. “I want to grow and I want to continue, but please, I ask you on behalf of myself and other classified employees ... that you do look out for us, take care of us because of we aren’t taken care of, our students aren’t taken care of either.”

As the Loudoun County School Board gets ready to begin the fiscal 2019 budget process, LCPS staff says increasing the pay of classified employees should be a top priority. Frisicaro and several other classified employees have shared their stories and concerns with the School Board.

Classified staff includes those who do not have a teaching license -- teaching assistants, some substitute teachers, bookkeepers, office staff, custodians and cafeteria workers.

Karen McCall has worked as a health clinic specialist for 14 years and has already saved the life of two students -- this school year alone -- by administering epi pens to students having severe allergic reactions. Yet McCall had to take a second job to support her family, which means she works 50 to 60 hours a week.

“I’m quite sure those parents would say my quick response is worth more than what I am paid,” McCall said. “There isn’t any amount of money that could replace a life. I ask you seriously consider all classified positions as a must needed aspect of education for all of our students.”

Loudoun Education Association President David Palanzi said employee pay is the largest concern among all LCPS personnel at all levels. He said employees are often distracted at work because they’re worried about money or have had to take on second jobs.

Teacher salaries continue to lag compared to neighboring counties, according statistics shared by Superintendent Eric Williams. LEA members need step adjustments in addition to market scale adjustments across all salary scales, Palanzi said.

Barbara Plunkett, an LCPS bookkeeper, said schools are starting to have trouble retaining custodians because they’re switching jobs to better support themselves and their families. She said if the School Board does not adjust salaries, LCPS may face a custodian shortage similar to that of the years-running bus driver shortage.

“Hopefully we can address this situation before it becomes critical,” Plunkett said.

Like other speakers, Karen Tyrrell has worked as a classified employee for more than a decade and says she does not make a livable wage. Tyrrell works as a technology assistant, which she says is a position with ever increasing importance as LCPS continues to integrate more technology into curriculum.

“With the reclassification of technology assistants, we have been given new and more challenging responsibilities,” Tyrrell said. “We need a higher wage to attract and keep experienced personnel in this position.

In addition to classified employees, the School Board has heard concerns surrounding salary increases for teachers with more experience at higher pay scale steps. These teachers are essential because they serve as leaders and mentors to younger teachers LCPS is trying to retain, advocates say.

“If your goal is to make LCPS a competitive and desirable place to work, you should not only continue working to attract and retain young teachers, but you should also incentivize longevity … keeping teachers in the system for the entirety of their careers,” longtime teacher Timothy Greening said.


These teachers sound sad and everything, but what about the football players?  Does anyone ever think of them??

Some schools in the LCPS don’t even have brand new press boxes or artificial turf!  Some schools only have ONE press box and GRASS fields. Could you even imagine the stains on the uniforms??  In what third world country do the students not even have artificial turf fields and press boxes??? Yet here in Loudoun, this is a reality every_single_day.

Thank God Freedom HS got two press boxes and a field this year for only $3.2 MILLION. 

And that’s a bargain if you think about the very real consequences of the school not having those things.

VirginiaSGP merely calls out the facts to fill in from the lousy reporting.  Not hateful, just factual. 
Let’s also call out how much we taxpayers spend on teaching English to Illegals.

Ah yes, the sky is falling again on LCPS. See this every year. No mention of all the wasteful spending over the years, just they need more money or the kids will suffer. Ask for $100 million more really only needing about $20 million more and getting $40 million. It’s been like this for over 25 years.

It is not the Board of Supervisors that spends the money it is the school board, blame is on the them for needlessly spending money on FDK and letting wages of support staff molder!

I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but the two teachers assistants I know have a high school degree. Their benefits far exceed what they would get working at any other equivalent job, so I think they are doing very well for themselves. 

In the case of teachers, they deserve a raise.  Loudoun County is a brutal place to live.  I bet Matthew Frisicaro (cited in article) will not have two weeks off over Christmas and three months over the summer for that $8,000 more a year.  While I applaud all teachers, no other career works only 9 months a year.

It is unfortunate that all legal voters in Loudown
(or it is “lowdown”) County cannot vote approval or disapproval of the school budgets like they can and do in better run states than Virginia. Northern Virginia in particular is too close to DC and it is really beginning to slip into the giant cesspool of America that Washington, DC has become. It matters not which party controls what, DC is still nothing but a stinking cesspool and Loudoun County is rapidly becoming part of it.

Virginia SGP you should run, don’t walk to the nearest career switcher program so you can take advantage of those exhorbitant benefits, pensions, and cushy hours that teachers enjoy (according to your many claims here).  I won’t hold my breath and wait for this to happen.

Thank you Buffacuse 3! And note that just about all non-teaching staff classifications were mentioned here except the school bus drivers, who have at least as responsible a position as teaching assistance. The only mention of the school bus drivers was the slap-in-the-face reference stating, “LCPS may face a custodian shortage similar to that of the years-running bus driver shortage”. My experience in the 55 years since transferring out of a university teaching program is that school personnel seem to have few friends whom are not working in the same profession. Thus they all whine and sry on each other’s shoulders without seeking information on what people working in other profession are experiencing. If they looked at what many nurses and law enforcement officers, to name but two other professions, endure both in working conditions and salaries maybe some of these “para-professionals” would learn to smell the roses a bit more rather than constantly complaining. The specific complaint that people are paid better in other districts cuts no ice with me. LCPS have no requirement preventing them from seeking work in any of these supposedly better paying locations.

My hat is off to Matthew Frisicaro. He saw what he needed to do to meet his needs and did it. Anyone else has the same right but most would rather whine.

My kids have had some great teaching assistants over the years and I’m grateful for them.  Sure, I’d like to see them make more money and yes, as opposed to press boxes…

But, didn’t they know the salary level of the job BEFORE they applied for it?  Some of the folks quoted here act like they were surprised…no one was forced to take one of these jobs, and presumably they were all adults.  This is sort of like taking a job as a football player and complaining that people keep hitting them. 

So, thank you for doing this great work but you willingly entered a profession that you knew paid lower wages than others.  I hope things get better for you, but your eyes were wide open.

Westernloudounguy, last year teachers on steps 10-16 got 5% raises. This year they are targeting 7% raises for those teachers. I will give you one guess for the steps of the school board’s LCPS spouses… and those same school board members even resent having to tell the public they are voting their households.

Teachers don’t have to save one penny because they get a $50k/yr pension for like at age 52. So you can’t even compare them to private wages (which have to work 235 days/yr) since those workers better be saving 15-20% of their income for retirement. It would be one thing if only the best (“master”) teachers were earning this but you have retired-in-place PE teachers earning over $100k/yr.

The taxpayers are being fleeced.

Why is it so hard to accept that civil servants deserve to be middle class? Most parents have a rough time dealing with a couple teenagers.  Imagine dealing with 30 of them for 8+ hours a day.  It’s a hard job and the support staff are stressed as well just trying to keep antiquated buildings safe, clean, and operational.  There are IT people in the schools that are each responsible for keeping over 2,000 devices running.  There are people that have to secure and watch over the buildings during and after school at all hours.  The wages are not competitive with business and to deny a living wage is shameful.

Why should teachers get more money and not Fire Fighters, LCSO Deputies, or thousands of other Government Employees who earn a wage based on taxpayer dollars?

SGP, if you’re saying that teachers have been getting 5%+ raises the last few years then I’m not sure where your getting your numbers.  My family member who’s a longtime teacher hasn’t gotten a 5% raise in 1 year in more than a decade- if ever. Not saying that there aren’t some teachers at some levels that have, but as far as I can see, most teachers have not gotten the kinds of raises you describe.

Maybe they should have been pleading for pay increases instead of full day kindergarten.  Press boxes.  Turf fields.  White boards.  The list goes on.  School system has been fully funded and got more money each year for the the last 30 years.  Every year the sky is falling.  We are losing teachers.  They can’t afford to live in Belmont ridge and Lowe’s island or middleburg.  They have to pay for their own school supplies.  Our cost per student is too low.  Fairfax and Montgomery has greener grass.  We don’t have enough minority teachers.  And on and on.

My New Year’s resolution is to not call out SGP for his continued, flawed, venomous attacks on teachers. 

My personal goal for this year is to let him rant all he wants because I am positive that the good neighbors of Loudoun know better and that they believe teachers are worth more than SGP wants everyone to believe. 

So, to SGP, I hope you are happy in the new year.  To everyone else, thank you for support those who teacher our children.

Of course ALL EMPLOYEES should be paid a living wage FOR THE HOURS WORKED! Will someone please ask for disclosure of the salary per hour worked for each level of employee and then let’s discuss this with REAL data in front of us. For example: is it possible that a department head who teaches less than regular teachers earns OVER $200/hour when including the LCPS contribution to pension and fringe benefits? Please publish data so the readers can see an apples to apples comparison. It is really not fair nor honest to consider a 180 day program minus vacations, snow days, sick days etc as an equal comparative to someone who has to be at work all year to receive their salary including federal holidays etc.
Bob Ohneiser Esq.

I’m so grateful that people are attracted to calling of teaching then the prospects of wealth.

LCPS teachers have received large raises (5%+) over the last few years, yet there is no performance evaluation at all.  LCPS underperformed all other OECD countries on the int’l PISA tests and a recent NY Times article found LCPS came in at the 41st percentile in academic growth of their students between 3rd and 8th grades.  Why are we paying teachers based solely on seniority when we clearly have a lot of average to below-average teachers?

Further, the retention charts provided by LCPS itself shows virtually no teacher leaves after obtaining Step 15.  Thus, the “pay for longevity” call is really just a “lavish handouts on me from the hard-working taxpayer even though I wouldn’t possibly consider leaving this lucrative job” whine.

LCPS has many more applicants that it can possibly hire.  LCPS pays more than more expensive counties to the East.  Who in their right mind, other than corrupt school board members looking to give their teacher spouses a whopping 7% raise, would give even more of your money to teachers who can retire at the ripe ol age of 52 with a $50K/year pension for life?

As for the classified workers, supply and demand will determine their wages.  As we saw in bus drivers (despite LCPS having about $6M leftover in unused funds each year), the compensation wasn’t enough to lure drivers (the board wanted that money to pay their LCPS teacher spouses instead).  When you can’t hire enough drivers, wages should be raised.

However, often there are sufficient workers to fill a role.  If there are enough 2nd earners willing to serve as teaching assistants at the classified rates because they also have a primary breadwinner, then we need not raise pay simply because some ex-business worker wants to support his entire family in a job he likes better.  (note that most business employees work 50-60 hrs/week so it’s not a valid argument to suggest these assistants not work the same hours via a second job)

We can’t trust the LCPS administration or the board to manage these schools.  In fact, why did LTM even put out a propaganda piece for the union/over-paid LCPS administration?  Shouldn’t they do the same for the hardworking taxpayers whose money is confiscated to pay for these goodies?  We need the following to determine what policy is needed:

1. Vacancy rate by position and in comparison to neighboring counties

2. Retention rate of workers by position and Step and in comparison to neighboring counties

3. Performance data of teachers compared to similar districts and by Step (latter showing Step 15 teachers are no more valuable than Step 5)

I would venture to bet that teachers are way oversupplied and have no justification for a raise (applies to average teachers since we can always use more objectively-determined, highly effective teachers who can command higher $$). I would also guess several classified positions are under-supplied and justify higher wages.  Nobody has any confidence school board or administration can manage this.

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