The LCPS pay scale, like those of school districts around the nation, needs reform. It is a system that rewards longevity and punishes very poor performance, but does not reward excellence. It does not recognize higher market demand for certain disciplines. I suspect it was designed a couple of generations ago to remedy overwhelming problems of gender pay inequality and to shield employees from political favoritism. Those are still important principles but they can be accounted for with other mechanisms and should no longer override every other consideration.
School Board member Bill Fox and the Six-Pack that supports him are right to want to bring salary levels up on the lowest end of the scale. Custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria, transportation and maintenance workers at LCPS should be paid more. So should the construction workers who build our schools. They are right that this cannot be done in a fiscally responsible way without reducing either the top end of the scale or the number of people being paid at the top end of the scale. They are right to question the current health insurance premium structure, which charges the same amount for an Assistant Superintendent making $156,901 per year as it does for a custodian making $11.33 per hour.
Nevertheless, Bill Fox and the Six-Pack have mistaken the brute force of their majority for wisdom, and short cuts for common sense. Reforming a generations-old pay structure into one worthy of both the taxpayers and the modern workforce they employ cannot be done in a few weeks by part-time amateur politicians pulling numbers out of a hat. That scale of reform, affecting the livelihoods of thousands of people who are beloved in this community, takes time and the long slog effort to build consensus. It needs independent professional guidance.
The School Board needs to implement Jennifer Bergel's recommendation for a 2% across-the-board COLA in FY13, saving $3 million over Bill Fox's plan. It should use part of that savings to pay $100,000 for a compensation study, a line-item that the Superintendent proposes to cut. It should determine that next year, or in stages over the rest of its term, it will implement a modern pay structure, and begin the work to do so with the Loudoun Education Association at the table.
But for now, the Board should abandon its half-baked attempt at salary reform, give employees a modest COLA, and move on.