A divided Fairfax County School Board approved a $2.4 billion budget for the public school system last week that gives teachers a 2 percent pay raise and shifts money from maintenance funds to support programs that school board members viewed as a higher priority.
Four board members voted against the budget, primarily due to their disagreement with how the board handled employee compensation.
Ted Velkoff (At Large) was among the board members who believes the action to provide the 2 percent market scale adjustment now will hurt the board’s efforts to fund a step increase for employees next year.
“I think we may be underestimating the ill will we may engender with the Board of Supervisors,” Velkoff said. The Board of Supervisors approved increased funding for schools this year with the direction that it was to accommodate student population growth not pay increases.
In preliminary budget planning for fiscal 2015, county leaders are planning only a 2 percent increase in school funding for the next budget year, although other school board members believe they will be able to get more.
Jane Strauss (Dranesville) said she is optimistic about the economy and the local housing market rebounding and is anticipating a rosier budget picture next year.
“We simply have to find a way to pay our employees, or we are going to lose quality,” Strauss said.
Like others in the majority that supported the 2 percent pay increase, Strauss also said she did not want to pass up the one-time, $6.3 million in-state funding that the county will get to help finance the pay raise. The pay increase, which will go into effect in January, will cost the school system about $22 million.
Board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) was on the other side of the employee pay issue, wanting to cut funding in other areas to provide more pay to teachers now. “I am flummoxed that we have arrived at some of the decisions we have arrived at over the course of the night,” Schultz said.
Board members also voted to shift money that had been designated for bus replacement and preventive maintenance into other programs.
These budget changes will expand Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools to three additional schools, expand elementary-level advanced academic programs to schools with the highest risk indices and add psychologist and social worker positions.
Board members supporting the additional program spending said they believe there will be sufficient money left at the end of the current budget year to invest in one-time maintenance expenses.
Others said the school system needs to do a more thorough evaluation of programs like the foreign language and Young Scholars programs to ensure that the schools are getting the best value out of them.
The board also was divided on how to best approach concerns about youth mental health within the school system, but ultimately voted to hire enough staff so that no psychologist or social worker is assigned to more than two schools. Now, one person could be assigned to support two elementary schools and a middle school, for example.
“This is not a luxury,” said Patty Reed (Providence), one of the board members who introduced the amendment to fund psychologists and social workers. “We need to focus on the whole child.”