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GUEST OPINION: Our schools are in crisis. Collective bargaining is part of the solution.

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PhotoColumnMaggieHansford

Maggie Hansford 

Our schools in Prince William County are facing a serious employment crisis. We are in the midst of a teacher shortage, a substitute shortage and a bus driver shortage. These shortages end up placing more stress and workload on our current employees, which exacerbates the shortages as more educators and staff quit or retire. 

The consequences of shortages include educators being told to cover other classes during their planning times due to a lack of substitute teachers, expanded class sizes with additional students due to not having enough teachers, and teachers having to work consistently beyond their contracted hours and often without additional pay to cover school duties.  

The starting salary for an educator with a master’s degree in Prince William County schools is  $57,000. That educator is also responsible for purchasing most of the resources and supplies they will need to use during the school year.  

When you visit your child’s classroom, most of what you see is purchased by the teacher. When you schedule a phone call with your child’s teacher, more than likely it will take place during their lunchtime, planning period or personal time. As planning time is limited during the school day, your child’s teacher is working unpaid on the weekends and evenings on grading, communication and lesson plans. 

This creates a stressful work/life balance for all educators. Burnout and resignations are consistent problems in our county and throughout the country. 

There is a way to help alleviate this strain on our teachers: collective bargaining. The right to negotiate will enhance learning environments for our students and improve working conditions for our educators by giving educators a voice in creating a sustainable atmosphere where both students and employees can thrive together. 

Virginia banned public sector collective bargaining 44 years ago. That ban included our police and fire departments, county employees and school employees. The ban was overturned via a new law, and now public sector employees are finally able to collectively bargain. But the law stipulates that collective bargaining can only happen if local elected leaders vote to approve negotiation rights. Just this week, our Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted to create a local ordinance to allow our police officers, firefighters and county employees the right to bargain. 

Now, our Prince William County School Board has the responsibility to vote to allow school division employees to do the same. 

Collective bargaining gives educators a voice in their workplace. The process would allow our teachers and school staff to seek more competitive pay and benefits, improve recruitment efforts, and create a pathway for a secure retirement, all which will lead to higher retention rates. Having a more stable teaching staff will benefit students and staff, alike. Students will receive more individualized attention and support, which will improve their educational outcomes. 

Our community will be stronger when our public sector employees have negotiation rights. As police, fire and educators are able to bargain, our community will enable more of our public sector employees to afford to live in Prince William County and pay taxes back into the county budget. They’ll live in the neighborhoods they serve, build valuable community relationships, put less burden on local traffic, and be less stressed with shorter commutes and more reasonable workloads. 

Our public sector employees have served our community through hard economic times, during an ongoing pandemic, and in all types of inclement weather. Without our public sector employees, our community is unable to protect, serve and educate. 

We learned how vital public sector employees are for our families during this pandemic.  Schools are a place not only to learn, but for many of our kids are places to eat, seek comfort and be safe. Our students deserve educators who are paid fairly and are able to afford to live close to where they work. 

For the sake of our students, our educators and our community, I hope you will join with school employees and support them in obtaining the right to collectively bargain. 

Maggie Hansford is president of the Prince William Education Association and previously was a speech pathologist for Prince William County schools. She resides with her family in Bristow where her three children attend our public schools. 

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(2) comments

Faithmy

School choice is the answer. We don’t need liberals having MORE of a Strangle hold on public education. We need parents to be able to flee from the CRT nonsense, violent , failing schools. School vouchers. Parents money, parents children, parents choice.

JosephGeorge4Neabsco

School Choice isn’t the answer, because “school choice” is the school choosing its students, not the families choosing the school. If you don’t believe in a School Board not listening to families, what makes you think a Board of Directors will?

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