Teachers from the Prince William Education Association gave notice Wednesday night that they’d collected the requisite signatures to form a collective bargaining unit. The move gives the school board 120 days to either adopt or decline a collective bargaining resolution.
PWEA began their drive for signatures in January, following a state law that took effect last year allowing public sector collective bargaining in Virginia for the first time since the 1970s. Already, teachers in Richmond and Loudoun County have submitted signatures to form collective bargaining units. Prince William County police and fire employees have also submitted petitions for collective bargaining units to the Board of County Supervisors.
“We all know that in order to recruit and retain the very best employees for our students, we need to compensate them fairly,” Hansford told the school board Wednesday night. “Our educators, our bus drivers, our custodians, librarians, special education assistants, itinerants, social workers, school psychologists, nurses, secretaries and every Prince William County Schools staff member supports our students to thrive and reach their full potential. We are so proud to stand before you tonight, and you [Superintendent Latanya] McDade, in this historic partnership.”
Hansford declined to say whether teachers were the only group of school staff that would be included in the collective bargaining unit, or whether other groups like custodial, food service or transportation staff would be included. To form a collective bargaining unit, the union must collect supportive signatures for over 50% of the staff it represents.
So far this year, teachers have won a number of new concessions from the district, like compensation for time spent waiting for short-staffed buses to pick up students after school and extra pay for planning periods lost to substitute duty or administrative meetings. At the same time, the school board budget for the current fiscal year included a roughly 5% pay raise for the average county teacher, while the fiscal year 2023 budget – which the school board approved Wednesday night – features an average 7% pay raise for teachers, according to McDade.
Still, teacher pay in Prince William remains below what it is in other Virginia localities to its north on average. And teachers say their colleagues are leaving the profession because of inadequate pay and additional workloads due to a teacher shortage that existed before the pandemic but has only worsened since 2020. According to the most recent salary survey conducted by the Virginia Department of Education, the average salary for a Prince William teacher in fiscal year 2021 was $70,281.
In interviews with InsideNoVa over the winter, teachers said the hope was to make Prince William competitive with other jurisdictions like Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun by increasing teacher pay and giving educators a greater voice in the budgeting process to make division administrators more responsive to teacher needs. At Wednesday night’s school board meeting, a group of over 20 PWEA members wore shirts that read “A SEAT AT THE TABLE.”
PWEA members have also said that they plan to bargain for more than just increased pay, like more counseling and social work staff that can take some of the burden off teachers.
“If I’m teaching a class of 32 high school students and one of my students is struggling emotionally that day … they need help right then,” Battlefield High School language arts teacher Brandie Provenzano told InsideNoVa in January. “Is it going to come from me? I’ve got 31 students in the classroom waiting. Or is there a counselor available? But the counselors are all tied up because we’re understaffed. … When we’re talking about resources, I’m talking about people.”