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Fairfax County Teachers Sue Board Over Decision To Freeze Pay Hikes

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The Fairfax County (Va.) Education Association last week filed suit against the Fairfax County school board over its decision to freeze teachers' longevity-pay increases for the next school year.

Board members in the suburban-Washington district voted on May 23 to freeze the automatic pay increases of all district employees in an attempt to make up a $30-million shortfall in the district's $904-million budget.

The district estimates that it will save $17.6 million by freezing the "step" increases normally given to teachers and other employees. The board earlier had decided not to give employees cost-of-living increases.

But the teachers' union, which represents 6,900 of the district's teachers, contends that the school board violated its own policy of granting the increases by freezing teachers' wages.

Maureen Daniels, president of the f.e.a., an affiliate of the National Education Association, said the board also failed to notify teachers by April 15 of its intention not to give the increases. By that date, under Virginia law, school districts must tell teachers whether they will continue to be employed.

By failing to notify teachers of the intended wage freeze by that date, said Steven David Stone, the lawyer representing the union, the school board indicated that it would continue to employ teachers under the terms of the current contract, which includes the step increases.

The district maintains that it did notify teachers of the possibility of a wage freeze in an April 12 memorandum from Superintendent of Schools Robert R. Spillane.

But Ms. Daniels said the union is contesting whether the notices were valid and whether they reached all of the schools on time.

Kohann H. Whitney, chairman of the school board, said board members consulted with their lawyers before freezing the pay increases and "were advised that we have the right to take such action."

"The lawyers will have to fight it out in court," Ms. Whitney said.

The board chairman noted that 88 percent of the district's budget is made up of personnel costs and that the board was trying to save jobs by freezing the step increases.

"We would love to be able to give our employees [cost-of-living] and step increases," Ms. Whitney said, "but unfortunately the financial situation did not permit it."

Ms. Daniels said the union had suggested its own budget cuts, including requiring students to pay about $60 a year in textbook rental fees.

The 3.8 percent "step" increases would have amounted to raises of between $600 to $1,400 per teacher for the 81 percent of the teaching force eligible for such increases, according to Ms. Daniels. Fairfax teachers earn an average of $40,000 a year.

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