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 unprecedented student growth 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 earlier pledges to give larger market scale adjustments, step increases and extended time for teachers — 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 to pay a 5 percent employee contribution, 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, proposed the full 5 percent shift in fiscal year 2013, 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 "the narrative of mistrust we have tried to heal" 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 the transparency of how that money, and money used to reduce class sizes, has been used in the past, 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.