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Enrollment Drives $2.5 B Fairfax Schools Budget

FY 2014 spending plan adds nearly 293 positions to accommodate 2,857 extra students -- but 'bare bones budget' falls short on some needs, Superintendent Jack Dale says.

Fairfax County Schools Superintendent Jack Dale unveiled a $2.5 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2014 on Thursday — a budget $62.7 million larger than last year's spending plan largely driven by huge enrollment growth and the staffing needed to accommodate it.

But the plan is "bare bones," Dale said, compared to an earlier Fairfax schools fiscal forecast that anticipated giving more compensation to teachers and reducing class sizes or creating a permanent line item for textbooks, among other program needs.

"It's nothing extravagant but it does recognize some of the things Fairfax expects," Dale said Thursday morning after a meeting with reporters.

The budget Dale presented to the school board Thursday finds $50 million in savings, but relies heavily on a proposed 5.5 percent increase ($92.4 million) in funding from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors — for a total transfer of $1.77 billion — as a revenue source. 

In a meeting this fall, Fairfax County Executive Ed Long said he anticipated being able to give the school system an $84.2 million increase. 

Dale's budget includes funding for 292.5 additional school positions to accommodate a 2,857 student increase in enrollment, which will bring total membership to 184,393 students.

As membership swells, so too do the needs of students who require special instruction, smaller class sizes, or both. Since 2009, the number of English for Speaker of Other Languages (ESOL) students has grown 42.3 percent; the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals has increased by nearly 36 percent. Though the system's special education population has seen a lower growth rate of six percent, their needs are often greater, Dale said. 

The budget also includes a proposed $6.5 million in extended time for teachers, enough to fund an extra day of planning for all employees, and $1 million to add eight Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES) programs, one per cluster.

To see the full proposed budget, view the PDF at right. 

What the budget doesn't do, Dale said: Adequately compensate its teachers, or keep Fairfax County competitive with other jurisdictions in how much it pays them.

Dale is proposing the system pay the remaining 3 percent of a state-mandated 5 percent cost shift to the Virginia Retirement System at a cost of $16.6 million. To help offset the burden, like in last year's budget, Dale is proposing a one percent reduction in the amount employees contribute to Fairfax's local retirement system, the Educational Employees' Supplementary Retirement System of Fairfax County (ERFC).

Dale said given those and other benefit and enrollment costs, the system only has another $18.9 million to provide a 1 percent market scale adjustment for all employees.

Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Steve Greenburg said the proposed extended teacher time funding would be better used for a small pay increase for all teachers.

“We are not getting the support form the state or the supervisors to even handle the growth increases let alone to compensate our employees appropriately," he said.

This fall, Fairfax County Public School officials were staring down a projected deficit of nearly $150 million, with another $90.8 million in unfunded program needs, based on a fiscal forecast put together by schools staff.

Step increases and other raises included in forecast didn't make it to Dale's plan; neither did significant extended contracts or funding to reduce class sizes, he said. 

Dale said the system and school board had made a habit of using one-time money to fund certain ongoing needs like employee compensation — funds that are now gone as the VRS reserve, of which the system used $60.6 million to fund various needs in Fiscal Year 2013, is depleted.

What’s Next

Dale said his goal with this year's spending plan is to create a structurally balanced budget after relying on one-time money for too long. 

"It's kind of my moral obligation to my successor is to try to leave a structurally balanced budget without a lot of obligations that are underfunded in the future," Dale said.

Kathy Smith (Sully district) said the budget laid out the "basics of keeping us moving forward," but there are some bigger issues — like class size and employee compensation — the board would have to find ways to solve.

"I don’t know if that can be done in this budget year," she said.

Smith said she looked forward to results of a State Efficiency Review conducted by Gibson Consulting, hired by Virginia to assess savings and efficiencies inFCPS.

Those results likely won't come in time to change anything about the FY 2014 budget, Dale said.

The school board will hold a public hearing on the budget Jan. 29. After a work session Jan. 31, it will vote Feb. 7 on an advertised budget to send to the Board of Supervisors.

This article has been updated.

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