Although Fairfax County schools would receive an increase in funding next year under a proposed budget plan, school officials voiced concerns that the increase falls short of addressing students’ and teachers’ needs.
During a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, County Executive Ed Long proposed a 1.5 percent increase, roughly $51 million in county general fund spending. Much of the increase, $41 million, would go to Fairfax County Public Schools, which is a 2 percent increase for schools.
“I tried to make sure we put in enough money for enrollment growth,” said Long. As for funding other things the School Board wants, like salary increases for teachers and staff, and program expansions like that to elementary school foreign language programs, Long said, tough discussions and decisions would be needed.
The proposed increase in school funding does not match the funding increase requested by the School Board.
“[It] falls short of what I believe is required to provide for the additional staffing needed to accommodate the enrollment growth forecast for next year, the cost of state mandated Virginia Retirement System changes, and a small, but much needed increase in compensation for teachers,” said schools Superintendent Jack D. Dale. “I’m hopeful the Board of Supervisors will recognize that the School Board’s advertised budget is not a wish list but rather a modest plan that addresses immediate classroom needs.”
The total advertised schools budget for next year is $2.5 billion, a net increase of 2.7 percent.
Of this funding, 71 percent or about $1.78 billion would come from the county. Instead, the county executive has proposed a transfer of $1.72 billion.
The state funds about 15 percent of the school’s budget and the federal government about 2 percent. The other 12 percent is a mixture of out-of-county tuition paid by localities sending students to FCPS schools, such as Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a regional governor’s school, sales taxes designated for school use, carryover from the previous budget year and other fees.
Without the county’s full funding of its proposal, School Board members said cuts to planned program expansions and teacher raises might also be cut.
“It’s going to make it rough to fund the thousands of new students we are getting each year,” said School Board member Dan Storck (Mount Vernon District). “That’s the challenge we face every year we don’t get what we need.”
Storck said he worries the shortfall will impact at-risk and needy children the most. He also said educators and staff hoping for raises this year might be impacted by the proposed funding.
Fellow School Board member Ted Velkoff (At-large) said, “Honestly, I’m not surprised... [Long] cautioned us that we’re not out of the woods yet in terms of our economy.”
“It’s obviously going to be harder for us,” Velkoff said, adding that he is concerned about the increased workload on teachers and staff, who have had minimal or no pay increase during the last several years.
With the federal budget sequestration looming, local governments are wary of offering large spending increases that could be dashed by a Congressional decision.
Supervisors say the 2 percent increase in schools funding shows the priority the county places on education.
“Schools are about 54 percent of the budget, so when they get a 2 percent increase or any increase the rest [of local agencies] fall below the line,” said Supervisor John C. Cook (R-Braddock). “There are no school cuts in this budget. There’s an increase... And it’s just about the only increase [in funding] in there.”
The proposed budget will undergo discussion and possible amendments by the Board of Supervisors until its approval in late April. The School Board is scheduled to approve its budget in May.
County government reporter Kali Schumitz contributed to this article.