Competing For Teachers: How Loudoun County Measures Up - Leesburg Today Online—Daily News Coverage of Loudoun County, Leesburg, Ashburn: News

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Competing For Teachers: How Loudoun County Measures Up

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Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2013 8:59 am

It’s hiring season for Northern Virginia schools—the time of year nearby districts compete for the highest quality educators to fill thousands of teaching positions in some of the nation’s fastest growing school systems. And the time of year Loudoun County Public Schools finds out just how it measures up with its neighbors, as teachers weighing job offers compare everything from salaries and benefits to classroom sizes.

Every spring, as school and county leaders consider how to tighten the school district’s budget, they hear a repeated warning from teacher groups and school administrators not to cut teachers’ pay or benefits for fear that Loudoun County will fall behind other nearby districts in its ability to retain and recruit quality teachers.

A look at the numbers—including salaries, health insurance and post-retirement benefits—shows Loudoun falls about in the middle, with school districts to the east offering higher salaries and better benefits, and those to the west offering far less (see chart). But some are nervous that the sweeping changes to health insurance premiums and post-retirement benefits the Loudoun County School Board adopted earlier this year will be the catalyst for sending more teachers east.

“It all has people looking at nearby school systems,” said Sandy Sullivan, the former president of Loudoun Education Association who now teaches kindergarten at Sully Elementary School. She has taught in Loudoun County for 19 years and says she has not considered changing school districts because she likes living in Ashburn, a short commute from where she teaches. “But I’ve definitely heard people say they are frustrated with Loudoun right now. They’re thinking about whether they’re willing to trade a further commute with more stability in their health care coverage or for more regular salary increases.”

Competing With Fairfax

Loudoun school leaders consider Fairfax County Public Schools their major competitor, as they should. Fairfax County is Loudoun’s closest neighbor that offers slightly higher pay and significantly higher retirement pensions. Just like a Loudoun public school retiree, a Fairfax retiree will receive a monthly check from the Virginia Retirement System, which comes out to roughly half of a retired employee’s salary. But the Fairfax County employee also will receive another pension check from a local retirement system called Educational Employees’ Supplementary Retirement System of Fairfax County. For a retired teacher with 30 years of experience whose three-year average salary was $60,000 that equates to an additional $1,200 per month.

That second pension check makes Fairfax County look more attractive to employees thinking long-term, Loudoun County School Board member Jennifer Bergel (Catoctin) said. Bergel taught high school English in Loudoun County until she was elected to the School Board in 2008. She now teaches English in Fairfax County—Loudoun School Board members cannot work for the school district—and is one of the most vocal board members in advocating the protection of employees’ pay and benefits to keep Loudoun competitive. “We need to think about what the districts closest to us are providing their employees,” she said.

An extra check during retirement is not enough to lure all teachers, especially Loudoun’s younger teachers, to commute east.

Nicole Daniel, 27, actually drives west 25 miles from her home in Centreville to teach AP psychology and economics at Loudoun County High School. Even in light of Farifax’s superior retirement pensions, she plans to stay put. “I feel like if I were in my 20th year I would worry more about retirement benefits, but it’s not a super-high priority right now,” she said.

Attracting From The East

For nine years, Pam Palmer has made the 40-minute drive from Winchester to Leesburg, where she teaches second grade at Ball’s Bluff Elementary School. She says the drive can get long, but her salary in Loudoun helps her afford a single-family home. “I’m in between a rock and a hard place because I can’t afford to live in Loudoun where I work, and I can’t afford to work in Winchester where I live.”

It is all relative, it seems. It should come to no surprise that the smaller school systems to the west fear they will lose teachers to Loudoun County, with its higher pay and shiny, new schools.

Stuart Wolk, Frederick County School Board chairman, understands why teachers commute east for as much as $10,000 more per year, but he admits there is not too much his school district can do about it.

“We’re not going to catch Loudoun County as far as our pay goes—it’s just not realistic,” Wolk said. “We’re focusing our efforts on staying competitive on our side of the mountain.”

More Than Pay

Loudoun County sends recruiters to Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia to find enough quality applicants to fill roughly 600 teaching positions each year. Just 37 percent of the school district’s teachers are from Northern Virginia, according to Loudoun schools’ Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Services Kimberly Hough.

Loudoun has had little trouble filling its teaching positions, she said, even in previous years when salaries were frozen. She expects that is because Loudoun has a lot going for it: high graduation rates, relatively low class sizes, new technology in the classrooms and a variety of school settings, from rural Round Hill Elementary to racially diverse Sterling Middle School.

“We have something for everyone; we have a great reputation; and, on top of that, Loudoun County is a very desirable place to live,” Hough said.

Bergel says teachers consider a long list of factors when choosing which school system to work for, including facilities, classroom sizes, staff support and specific programs, such as elementary school foreign language. “In a lot of cases, it’s hard to pin-point why a teacher takes a job at a certain district because there are too many factors educators are considering,” including life circumstances, she said.

For Jeffrey Reed, the history department chair at John Champe High School, the decision to switch school districts was about a special job opportunity. He lives in Manassas and took the job at John Champe last fall after teaching for seven years for Prince William County Public Schools. As a department chair in Loudoun, he is required to teach only three classes as opposed to five classes in Prince William. Teaching fewer classes frees him up to mentor teachers while still working daily with students. “It was a great opportunity,” Reed said. “The pay is rarely the No. 1 reason why any one takes a job in this profession.”

Daniel agrees it’s about more than pay. She could get paid as much as $3,000 more a year if she worked in Centreville where she lives, but she loves her job at Loudoun County High School. She says Loudoun is special in its support of student creativity, school spirit, diversity and high student achievement. “It’s the culture that keeps me at that school, regardless of how tempting Fairfax’s pay may be.”

Loudoun schools’ Personnel Department is working to hone its techniques to recruit and retain teachers. It recently changed its exit interview form to include a series of checkboxes to make it easy for outgoing employees to indicate with which school system they took a job. “That will help us keep tabs on exactly how competitive we are,” Hough said.

In the meantime, Hough is optimistic that even with the changes to how Loudoun covers health insurance and post-retirement benefits, the county can draw and keep excellent teachers.

“We’ll always be able to attract top talent because we have a great reputation,” she said. “We can’t fall asleep at the wheel and take our employees for granted, but we have enough going for us that we don’t have to give up the farm every year, either.”

The national average for teacher turnover rate is 17 percent. Fairfax County’s turnover rate is about 13 percent, and Loudoun County’s was almost half that last year at 7.62 percent. Only time will tell if the changes to Loudoun’s benefits will be enough to send teachers to neighboring districts, but for now, Loudoun must be doing something right.

Welcome to the discussion.


  • Glory posted at 8:40 am on Mon, May 27, 2013.

    Glory Posts: 1064

    "Be careful to leave your sons well instructed rather than rich, for the hopes of the instructed are better than the wealth of the ignorant." Epictetus

  • Frank Reynolds posted at 10:27 am on Sat, May 25, 2013.

    Frank Reynolds Posts: 647

    I'm not sure why anyone would teach around here unless your spouse makes a hefty salary on their own. You can make $70k as a teacher in areas with much lower costs of living. Starting salaries are about the same too. I'd be willing to guess the retirement benefits (often union driven) are much better elsewhere as well.

  • carlind posted at 9:50 am on Sat, May 25, 2013.

    carlind Posts: 2

    Just double-checked the salaries and realized that the Arlington, VA teachers with Masters Degrees at step 9 make $71,982!! So those teachers are making almost $20,000 more than their Loudoun counterparts. When I was researching the other area districts online, Montgomery County, MD and Alexandria, VA popped right up, but what showed for Arlington was not the Virginia glad I checked back into it!!
    So Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, and Montgomery County all compensate teachers way better than Loudoun....

  • BaseballFan posted at 9:14 am on Sat, May 25, 2013.

    BaseballFan Posts: 1

    Sounds like this article was written with the intent of making it appear that Loudoun compares favorably to other districts around here, when obviously it doesn't. Seems like they were very selective in which districts they used on the list. Carlind, glad you checked into it and called them out. I looked these up myself and you are right. Wow, so teachers in Alexandria make $16,500 more per year than in Loudoun, and in Mongomery County (which should have been included if Frederick County was) they make $13,500 more. And even though it's not such a huge difference, teachers in Arlington make $7,000 more than in Loudoun.

  • carlind posted at 8:44 am on Sat, May 25, 2013.

    carlind Posts: 2

    I am so glad Leesburg Today published this article! I was curious why several local school systems weren't included on the chart, so I did some research--easy to find on the Internet-- and discovered that under step 9 with a Masters' Degree, teachers in Arlington make $60,930, teachers in Alexandria make $70,807, and teachers in Montgomery County, MD make $67,723! I have been teaching in Loudoun for 9 years myself, and had no idea how poor our compensation was compared to these nearby districts. No wonder they weren't included in the article!! I've already signed my contract for next year, but will definitely be looking elsewhere in the future. Loudoun has provided a great training ground, but I've got kids going to college soon and need to make more money--so glad this issue was brought up so I could find out for myself how much more I could be earning!!

  • Glory posted at 3:52 pm on Fri, May 24, 2013.

    Glory Posts: 1064

    This has been shared before. For all professional educational colleagues, teacher heros in Sandy Hook Elementary and Moore, Oklahoma, anyone who truly knows

    What Makes a Teacher and What do Teachers Make

    "The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued, "What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"
    To stress his point he said to another guest:

    "You're a teacher, Bonnie. Be honest. What do you make?"

    Teacher Bonnie, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied,
    "You want to know what I make?” (She paused for a second, then began)

    "Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor winner. I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class time when their parents can't make them sit for 5 min. without an iPod, Game Cube or movie rental.

    You want to know what I make?” (She paused again and looked at each and every person at the table)

    “I make kids wonder. I make them question. I make them apologize and mean it.
    I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions. I teach them how to write and then I make them write. Keyboarding isn't everything. I make them read, read, read. I make them show all their work in math. They use their God given brain, not the man-made calculator. I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to know about English while preserving their unique cultural identity. I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe. Finally, I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life.”

    (Bonnie paused one last time and then continued.)

    “Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, with me knowing money isn't everything, I can hold my head up high and pay no attention because they are ignorant. You want to know what I make?


    What do you make Mr. CEO?” His jaw dropped; he went silent.

    *Excerpt from a Principal's Commencement Address

  • average_joe posted at 8:03 am on Fri, May 24, 2013.

    average_joe Posts: 23

    The article talks a lot about teachers in Loudoun going to another county. According to the teachers we have retiring at my school, Loudoun County is facing the largest exit of teachers elligble for retirement they have ever seen. This includes upper level staff as well. We are loosing several directors. The retiree dinner the other night was packed. A co-worker at the Admin Building stated there is a constant flow of teachers coming to personnel to finalize their retirement before June 30. Both are citing changes in the health care and retirement as the reason to get out before they loose what they have worked for.
    We are told that any teacher hired after Jan 1, 2014 will have zero dollars set aside for their health care at retirement. The article is correct, new teachers are looking for a pay check. Experienced teachers begin to look at retirement. This will set Loudoun up to be the training grounds as we will attract a lot of new inexperienced teacher to loose them as they are hitting their stride and become great teachers and trying to protect their retirement. Just a thought.

  • LoCo Wonders posted at 9:44 pm on Thu, May 23, 2013.

    LoCo Wonders Posts: 96

    In the real world (private sector) HR only worries when there is an ACTUAL turnover rate is larger than your competitors.

    At my daugher's LoCo high school, more than half the class gots A's in their advanced mathemtics class but more than 75% failed the standardized test. So tell me what's wrong with a little teacher turnover? Seems to me like we NEED more turnover.

    The public sector needs to figure out how to encourage more selective turnover.

  • The Operative posted at 6:17 pm on Thu, May 23, 2013.

    The Operative Posts: 207

    It would be interesting to review the aggregate number of teachers broken out by ES/MS/HS and then comparing their pay. The chart shows "generally" but I'd like to know the following:
    1) Average pay, plus steps pay scales
    2) Any bonuses or incentives
    3) The dollar amount for the percentages listed on the HCI cost
    4) Cost per student

    That said, while the chart shows the "general" pay and it could be positioned that LCPS is competitive, it clearly indicates LCPS teachers have more students per classroom than other school systems.

  • lightguy posted at 5:24 pm on Thu, May 23, 2013.

    lightguy Posts: 70

    If I'm not mistaken, Loudoun employee's more teachers than Frederick County Va, Clarke County, Fauquier County, Winchester City and probably a few of the WV counties COMBINED. I'm not sure how looking at them really factors in- especially since we're not really loosing teachers to them. Just because they can pay less and still find staff doesn't mean that Loudoun can- especially since the majority of schools in Loudoun are in the eastern 1/2 to 1/3 of the County and FAR from most of those other jurisdictions.

  • David Dickinson posted at 4:16 pm on Thu, May 23, 2013.

    David Dickinson Posts: 987

    Get a map.

    Frederick and Fauquier border Loudoun. Augusta County does not. If we fear teachers leaving, one must assume that they will go to nearby jurisdictions so we should compare ourselves to our entire "neighborhood" and not just exclude those people we don't like to be compared to.

    The educational establishment in Loudoun keeps wailing about how they are getting shortchanged. But, when you step back and look at the entire picture, Loudoun is doing just fine. And that very, very low turnover rate tells me that some LCPS employees are just making a lot of noise. If it was so bad, they would change jobs...but the statistics show they are not.

  • bavarian19 posted at 3:37 pm on Thu, May 23, 2013.

    bavarian19 Posts: 89

    The cost of living in Frederick and Fauquier are nowhere close to Loudoun, Fairfax, and Prince William.

    Sure, if we compare teachers in Loudoun to Augusta County, Loudoun teachers are making a killing. Is that really an apples to apples comparison though?

    If you want intellectual honesty, then lets make a true comparison of the entire compensation range? Averages and introductory salaries are only part of the data. If you want intellectual reporting, then lets truly look at all of the data, not what is just convenient to make a point on either side of the argument.

  • David Dickinson posted at 1:56 pm on Thu, May 23, 2013.

    David Dickinson Posts: 987

    "why is it that the three jurisdictions that really should be compared"

    By which you mean the high-cost ones, right?

    I was glad to see the intellectual honesty in this reporting. Loudoun is surrounded by a diverse number and type of counties and I was glad to see the inclusion of them all.

    In the end, Loudoun compensates fairly. Despite the sky-is-falling we keep hearing about from the educational establishment that never has enough no matter how much it gets, we see from this that Loudoun is better off than some and worse than others in different categories.

    I especially appreciate that Danielle Nadler took the time to ask counties to the West what they thought of Loudoun and discovered that we are a threat to the other counties surrounding us. So, in reality, if we were to lose some teachers to Fairfax (which the stats show is not likely) we can attract more from surrounding jurisdictions.

    This was a well done article.

  • bavarian19 posted at 12:57 pm on Thu, May 23, 2013.

    bavarian19 Posts: 89

    Now with the new image posted, why is it that the three jurisdictions that really should be compared, we really should look at more data about mid-range salaries. Very few teachers are at the low end of the scale. Why is a 9 year experienced teacher making 4k less? That is significant.

  • bavarian19 posted at 11:26 am on Thu, May 23, 2013.

    bavarian19 Posts: 89

    What are those percentages showing? Turnover rate last year? Turnover rates for the past 20 years?

    Between the changes Loudoun has pushed on its future retirees and current employee health care, lets revisit this figure after next school year when the proposed health care and retirement changes kick in.

    Lets not forget that no matter where you teach, typically after 13 or so years of experience, you are 'stuck' where you are. If you accept a job in another system after that amount of experience, you will max out at a salary equivalent of 13 years experience, even if you have 25 years of experience. I will bet that one reason why Fairfax has such a higher rate of turnover is because of the proximity to DC and their ability to attract younger teachers that are more transient.

  • David Dickinson posted at 10:36 am on Thu, May 23, 2013.

    David Dickinson Posts: 987

    A good article. Thank you LT for showing the whole picture with some data to back it up. You have good journalists.

    I think the last paragraph sums it up, "The national average for teacher turnover rate is 17 percent. Fairfax County’s turnover rate is about 13 percent, and Loudoun County’s is almost half that at 7.62 percent"

    Despite all the fearmongering of teacher flight, Loudoun has very low turnover of teachers.