Can Prospective Public School Employees Afford Fairfax?

Can Prospective Public School Employees Afford Fairfax?

School pay scale for emerging professions hurts recruitment.

New teacher in August 2023, Sandra Benitz started her first day as a high school teacher four years after graduating from Annandale High School.

New teacher in August 2023, Sandra Benitz started her first day as a high school teacher four years after graduating from Annandale High School.

Amid nationwide teacher shortages, with school districts competing for applicants, Fairfax County Public Schools reported on March 5 that it is looking to fill instructional vacancies anticipated for the 2024-25 school year. Dr. Michelle Reid, superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, said on Feb. 9, speaking about the FY 2025 Budget, that the division must “attract and retain a world-class workforce.”

The welcome center inside the Fairfax County Public Schools Gatehouse Administration Center. 


The school division is facing a perfect storm of high-priced rent roadblocks as it prepares to offer contracts to full-time applicants whose annual income, according to the FY2024 Pay Scale effective Jan. 1, may not be sufficient to live comfortably in the county. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, Fairfax County is the ninth least affordable district for beginning teachers to rent a one-bedroom home.

Many teachers and other applicants, particularly those in one-or-two-person households, would benefit from having accessible, affordable, and easy-to-navigate housing options. This could lead them to choose Fairfax County Public Schools over another offer, and without extra help, signing onto Fairfax County Public Schools could be a significant hurdle.

According to Best Places, the average rent for a two-bedroom unit in Fairfax County is $2,280 per month. Fairfax's average one-bedroom rent is $2,000. 

According to Best Places, candidates with offers in hand must also consider that in addition to high housing costs, Fairfax County's cost of living is 42.4 percent higher than the national average and 37.7 percent higher than the Virginia average. "To live comfortably in Fairfax, a minimum annual income of $125,280 for a family and $80,000 for a single person is recommended," states Best Places.

Looking at Fairfax County Public Schools FY 2024 Unified Scale, 260-days (12-months), effective Jan. 1, 2024, provides a good overview of sample base salaries from lowest to highest. According to the division, the lowest income is $35,930, which falls within's definition of "very low income." It is for administrative and operational employees in Step 1 (Grades 001 and 002). At $35,930, it falls at the lower end of the 40 percent Area Median Income (AMI), just a few thousand dollars more than the "extremely low" poverty level at 30% AMI. According to the division’s Teacher Salary Scale, beginning teachers with a Bachelor's degree earn $67,501. According to HUD guidelines, this is within 70 percent of the area median income.

Without considering the superintendent's salary, the highest Fairfax County Public School pay, effective Jan. 1, 2024, is $269,191 for leadership team members. Pay for Dr. Michelle Reid, division superintendent, rose from $380,000 to $387,600 starting Jan. 1, 2024.

The first challenge for Fairfax County Public Schools applicants on the lower end of the division's 260-day, 12-month pay scale is that a household should spend no more than 30 percent of its gross monthly income on rent. A single teacher earning $67,501, would be forced to stretch their budget $300 a month beyond 30 percent to afford a one-bedroom rental in Fairfax County, which costs an average of $2,000.

It would be unlikely for a one-person administrative and operational employee candidate, with an income of $35,930, to qualify for a one-bedroom apartment in Fairfax County without some form of rental housing assistance.

Therein comes the second challenge to prospective Fairfax County Public Schools applicants whose pay scale would be low to moderate: navigating, finding, and obtaining rental housing assistance.

The county offers a detailed online overview of its affordable rental housing programs and privately owned affordable rental housing options with links to more specific program details such as eligibility requirements, applications, and waitlists. However, the county announced that waitlist applications are closed

Applicants could check out the county’s magnet housing program for contracted teachers, bus drivers, public safety recruits, and some Inova employees. It offers affordable rental housing with seven properties. Legato Corner Condos in Fairfax offers a one-bedroom apartment for $905, and Wescott Ridge offers a one-bedroom apartment with a den for $905.

Another rental option would be federal low-income housing tax-credit community apartment complexes like Arrowbrook at Ovation in Herndon, which opened in the spring of 2023, and One University in Fairfax, which will open in 2024. These complexes participate in a housing program that provides low-income tenants with affordable housing at a set rent. As an affordable housing/tax credit property, they set rents based on the current market at 30, 40, 50 and 60 percent of the area median income.

“One University is a powerful demonstration of this county’s determination to provide more affordable and accessible housing opportunities in every corner of the County,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay.

According to Jan Haub, affordable housing policies differ by community and can affect eligibility and obligations. She oversees the low-income housing tax credits and affordable housing compliance for Paradigm, which manages Arrowbrook at Ovation, owned by SCG Development, and One University, also managed by Paradigm but owned by the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority.

“Things vary tremendously from property to property …. It's very different at One University; it's different at the community down the street that has affordable housing, and every single community is going to be different,” Haub said in a mid-January interview.

One University is accepting online applications and has apartments priced for people at 50 and 60 percent AMI. Haub said Fairfax County will fill the positions based on the lower-income 30 percent and 40 percent AMI. 

Kayde Morton, leasing professional Ovation at Arrowbrook, wrote in late February, “Currently, we do not have any availability. We are 100 percent leased. Should an apartment become available, we offer it to our waitlist applicants first …. Please keep in mind that the waiting list is about 6-12 months long.”

Ultimately, attempting to navigate Fairfax County’s rental housing market for those at the lower 2024 pay scales offered by Fairfax County Public Schools may cause qualified applicants to look outside the county. As Haub said, referring to the units provided at more modest rents, such as 30 percent AMI, “My point is that these things are very complicated. And it is easy to get confused.”