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Alexandria teachers want smaller classes and bigger raises

ACPS teachers advocating at the January 19, 2023, School Board meeting (Courtesy photo)

Alexandria City Public School teachers are saying that the proposed salary and step increases aren’t enough.

Last Thursday, 15 ACPS teachers appeared before the School Board at its public hearing for Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt’s $359.9 million fiscal year 2024 combined funds budget proposal. Kay-Wyatt is proposing a 2.6% step increase and 2.5% market rate adjustment for eligible ACPS employees, and the 85% of the budget pays the salaries for 2,700 employees. She’s also proposing eliminating a step for employees on the pay scale.

Jay Falk, an Alexandria City High School English teacher, told the School Board that classes are so large teachers simply don’t have time for students.

“My overall student caseload is over 140 students,” Falk said. “There are almost a dozen teachers in our school who have 150 to 180 students. If I spent every minute of my planning time for a week grading essays, with 140 students I can spend no more than two minutes looking at each child’s essay.”

Alexandria City High School teacher Jay Falk speaks at the Jan. 19, 2023, School Board meeting (staff photo by James Cullum)

About 15% of ACPS teachers retired or quit last year, outpacing Arlington’s 9.5% and the national average, which is 8%, according to the Washington Post.

ACPS enrollment is projected to increase modestly from 15,732 students at the end of the current school year to 15,847 students at the beginning of the next school year in August 2023. Enrollment peaked at more than 16,000 students at the tail-end of the 2020-2021 school year — during the height of the pandemic — resulting in ACPS losing 474 students (3%).

But inaccurate enrollment projections have prompted frustration from some parents.

“This year’s enrollment numbers exceeded last year’s projections in the overwhelming majority of schools, including Brooks,” said Armita Cohen, the PTA president of Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School. “This resulted in larger classroom sizes in many grade levels, which made it harder for teachers to do their jobs. It continues to make it harder for students who are experiencing social and academic delays to catch up.”

ACPS enrollment projections (via ACPS)

Falk said that teachers are burned out, and that ACHS principals requested more than 20 new full time employees. Instead, five new full-time ACHS employees were funded in the budget. She and her colleagues are asking that the Board consider fully funding staffing requests from principals and that those funding requests be made public. They also want more instructional staff, counselors, and social workers. Lastly, they want two or three steps eliminated from the bottom of the salary scale, not just one.

Just at Minnie Howard, we lost three of our four counselors,” Falk said. “We are burned out, overworked and overwhelmed… Is there a reason the superintendent’s budget did not include everything that school leadership is telling you they need?”

Kay-Wyatt did not attend the meeting, but previously acknowledged increased class sizes and staff burnout.

“That is a big challenge that we will continue to shine a spotlight on,” Kay-Wyatt said after presenting her budget earlier this month. “The national teacher and bus driver shortage and the highly competitive salaries that are offered in the D.C. Metro Area have to be addressed so that we can provide our students with a quality education. We must also work to address the many forms of trauma that our students face.”

The School Board is expected to pass the budget (with revisions) on Feb. 16, and it then goes to City Council before being approved as part of the city budget in early May.

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