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Teacher Raises Stay Alive In $2.4B Budget

In 7-5 vote, Fairfax County school board members praise increased compensation but worry about how state retirement system plan will affect future

The Fairfax County School board narrowly approved a $2.4 billion budget Thursday night that will give teachers a 1.25 percent market-scale adjustment, add positions to handle and add $2.5 million more for extended learning time for at-risk students while phasing in the beginning of costly new state retirement system requirements.

The fiscal year 2013 spending plan, which takes effect July 1, did not include — items high on school board members' priority lists at the beginning of the budget cycle that were later compromised because of new state retirement system demands.

New legislation requires public school employees who participate in the Virginia Retirement System, which school systems currently pay.

To offset the increased contribution, the legislation requires school systems to in turn pay a 5 percent salary increase to employees. School systems have the choice of implementing the change all at once or over the course of five years.

The board struggled with how to balance those demands — and how the implementation would affect overall costs down the road — with its desire to give teachers more take-home pay and pay into other system needs like reducing class sizes, among others.

Superintendent Jack Dale, facing a $36.7 million shortfall, , offset by a 5 percent salary increase, and also picking up 2 percent of the teachers' contributions to the Educational Employees' Supplementary Retirement System of Fairfax County (ERFC) — a local retirement fund to which members currently pay 4 percent — as a way to ease their increased contribution to the state fund.

Board members instead passed a motion by Tamara Derenak-Kaufax (Lee) 7-5 Thursday night to increase employee compensation by $47.1 million, which includes a 2 percent VRS shift, a 1 percent ERFC shift and a 1.25 percent market-scale adjustment, designating the remaining $0.5 million for the VRS reserve.

Others wanted to complete more of the shift up front through a proposal by Ted Velkoff (At-large), which would have put $51.4 million into employee compensation via a 3 percent VRS shift, a 2 percent ERFC shift, and a 0.5 percent market-scale adjustment.

"One of the things we have to think about is the sustainability of our choices. The more time we put off this decision the more cost it's going to create," Kathy Smith (Sully) said. "I'm very concerned about the way our hands are going to be tied next year in this budget."

Others who voted against the overall budget — Smith, Velkoff, Patty Reed (Providence), Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) and Ryan McElveen (At-large) — worried about how the decision to delay the shift would feed with the county board of supervisors. They also worried what the dwindling VRS reserve, which dropped to $1.5 million in the 2013 plan because of other adjustments, would mean for future years.

Leaders of the county's two major teachers unions said they were happy with the option the board ultimately passed; compared to Dale's original budget change, which would have given employees no market-scale adjustment, the board-created plan gives teachers the take-home pay they need to live day to day.

"The employees I represent need money to eat," said Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers. "I appreciate the school system needs to [worry about next year], but if its employees can't make it to next year it's irrelevant."

"We need to get through this year," Fairfax Education Association President Michael Hairston added.

Schultz proposed several amendments to redirect funds from several other sources — including professional services and consulting fees — to teacher compensation; despite a long discussion about none of the amendments passed.

Other Adjustments, Looking Ahead

Among the other amendments the board passed Thursday:

  • increasing operating expenses by $2.4 million (which covers the elimination of athletic fees, additional school board office staffing, recording school board work sessions, the parent advocacy handbook, and the early education work group project)
  • increasing extended learning time move to amend the main motion by increasing extended learning time by $2.5 million, to add a week of summer school for at-risk students or for extended learning time for at-risk students during the school year, and by decreasing the VRS reserve by $2.5 million; further directing the superintendent to provide the Board with a school-by-school summary of the use of these funds by September 2012. 
  • Redirecting $0.5 million from transportation costs and by increasing the staffing reserve by $0.5 million and six positions to address class sizes.

Despite receiving $66.3 million less than the board requested from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, "we are making forward progress again" Board Chair Janie Strauss (Dranesville) said, noting the increase of 4.3 percent in transfer from Fairfax County and $40.2 million from state aid were the first the board had seen in "in a while." 

"This may not be a perfect budget, but it's a good one," Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill) said.

Hairston said he was happy the amendments adopted by board members — half of them in their first terms — were largely aligned with the priorities they set. 

For Greenburg and his members, the analysis and push for information and clarity by board members signified a shift in how the budget reaches its final form.

"The board members took control of the budget and rewrote it, in a way, and it's much better for us than [the one Dale presented]," Greenburg said. "I hope they don't back down in the future."

This article has been updated.

Check Patch later today for a breakdown of the budget by the numbers.

To see budget documents, click here.

School Board Needs Their Own Auditor May 25, 2012 at 12:31 PM
Good running commentary over at Fairfax Underground. Appears that Dale withheld information from the Board until time ran out. McLaughlin noted that "other professional and contracted services" has doubled to $17 million. Wants to put $5 million of it in reserve until they can figure out where it is going. Reed supports. Hynes and Velkoff said they won't support this approach simply because they don't want to support any line item cuts. Schultz then scolds those who will not consider supporting line item budget amendments. Says they deserve our full attention. McLaughlin questions why Dale's staff could answer instantly tonight, but but could not answer when she asked over several months. The real question is how much goes to Disney, Aspen Group, a $70,000 consultant and other consultants. Notes that this is just a single $17.2 million line that we can not explain... other line items like this out there? Dale and Quinn try to explain why they can't answer the question of how much is being paid to consultants. Reed points out that other school districts post lists of these contracts, why can't we? Appears to be a common sense approach to keep some money in reserve until staff can justify the spending, but only Schultz, McLaughlin, and Reed vote in favor, so it fails.
Andrea Rosenthal May 25, 2012 at 12:41 PM
I don't understand why athletic fees are a protected class of fees. The football quarterback doesn't pay athletic fees but the marching band members who play at his games pay hundreds of dollars in fees each year.
John Farrell May 25, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Make no mistake athletes will still be paying hundreds of dollars every season. They'll just pay $100 less next year.
Erica R. Hendry May 25, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Thanks for adding -- we're putting together a separate story on this issue. Stay tuned.
Scott B May 25, 2012 at 01:20 PM
uhhh --- WAKE UP STEVE GREENBURG! This hyperbole is stupid...and just makes taxpayers and non union - non governement employeees furious! I bet that the average teacher making say 60k+ need help getting food! Maybe they cant buy lobster each week, but come the F on! "The employees I represent need money to eat," said Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.
Barb May 25, 2012 at 01:29 PM
The marching band fee issues are being evaluated because they seem to confict with school policy on fees for classes. Only the school system can determine and assess a fee for a class, and are responsible for what is done with it. Marching band is a requirement for some band classes. There is major discussion going on right now about what to do about this. Plus, the parents were determining these fees (and band fees in general) in a lot of Band programs and telling the parents to pay up, frequently to a non-profit formed by the parents, which is not required to release records under FOIA. So, there was no oversight on what was being done with the money. Non-profits can't be relied upon to present accurate reports to members, nor open their accounting data to members (and they don't I can tell you from personal experience), let alone to the government. There is a major task force working on figuring out how to make sure anything associated with school-sponsored functions is handled properly to ensure public access to information, as it should be. Athletic fees are activity fees, not class fees, and in a separate category because of that.
Mag Pi May 25, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Scott B- members include those who earn a beginning salary of a little over $19K, and some even less! They DO need money to eat! Can you survive on $19K in Fairfax County? Take a look at what classroom assistants make, then tell us they don't need the money to live!
Michael May 25, 2012 at 02:24 PM
The band fees will actually be eliminated for any portion of band activities that is required for participation in the class. This is based on the same legal framework as the elimination of AP/IB testing fees when students are required to take the test. There can still be materials fees, just like for many electives, but the fees to attend adjudications will be removed.
Michael May 25, 2012 at 02:26 PM
And John is right, there will still be fees. Athletes typically pay quite a lot for equipment. However, those in need can usually scrounge up used equipment for at least part of it, or get help from booster organizations. The fee-to-join-the-team is different from paying for materials.
Michael May 25, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Michael 10:32 am on Friday, May 25, 2012 Scott, even those in the 60k category have struggled to get by with little or no raise for 4 years running, and many have taken a cut as contracts were shortened and extended learning time eliminated. They may not be struggling to eat- that was an unfortunate exxageration. But they have already cut all the low-hanging fruit in the last four years. Even this small (2.2%) increase in take-home pay isn't enough to make up for increases in rent, gas, etc. The overall CPI in our area has risen by almost 15% across the last five years. So, most teachers will see their standard of living decline for the fifth year in a row. So although the 'food question' may be a bit over the top, the bigger issue is how long teachers can continue to perform more tasks for more students taking more time with less support, and receive a raise that won't even keep pace with their bills.
Scott B May 25, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Michaelk you make good points thank you -- I was making a broader point the union person does a disservice when people see again the teachersalary starts at 44$ k and goes up to almost 100k with a nice pension....to use that over the top hyperbole....And Mag Pi --- yes a teacher assistant start out at about $13 an hour if you break down the low end salary to the less than 7 hour day. for someone without much education, I do not think that is too bad. Go tell the person at the 7-11 that 400$ a week for 30+ hours is so terrible......But again, # of assistant to teacher making LARGER money is not even a comparison so stop the false strawman argument!
Nancy May 25, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Erica Hendry please include an inquiry into the deep pocket of legal funds (taxpayer funds) FCPS has. FCPS uses this fund as play money to exceedingly agressively represent FCPS in all cases against parents seeking help for their child, often getting pushed through the system with no real educational value.. Perhaps FCPS could funnel much of this money toward teacher education and pay? Ask people who have been through this process- worst experience of thier lives! FCPS wastes huge amounts of taxpayer money seeking revenge on parents looking for help for their child. Ask any parent who has been through this process.
Mag Pi May 26, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Scott B- Do some simple fact checking before posting. You argue that an Instructional Assistant works less than seven hours a day- that statement is wrong. You say IA's do not need an education- again, wrong.
Cornelius Streeter March 04, 2013 at 11:04 PM
I am surprised that all the 19 custodian positions that was approved by the school board are going directly to Plant Operations. I strongly believe that Plant operations donot need all 19 custodians adding to the 13 that they already have. Those 19 custodian positions was approved last year to fill in the schools that lost custodians positions. Which mean my speaking to the school board was just up the air, because i wasn`t speaking for the field custodians but for the school that have losts custodian positions in the last 3-5 yrs. At least most of those 19 positions should have been for the high schools, what is Plant Operations going to do with 32 custodians when the schools are suffering with no help when a custodian is on vacation? For example, Falls Church High this year was added with a pre-school for early learners and that had increase the workload with no extra help plus the custodians that was lost in the last 3-5 years. I hope that Jack Dale will reconsider and send some of those custodians to the schools that need the help desparately. I will thank the School Board for listen and make that decision to hire the 19 custodians, but send them to the schools that need the help.

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