A planned salary increase for teachers would be delayed under a new budget plan presented by Superintendent Karen Garza to Fairfax County School Board on Monday.
The Board of Supervisors this week finalized the county budget for fiscal year 2015, which gives the school system a 3 percent increase in county funding, or $51.5 million more than schools received for this year. But Garza requested a 5.7 percent percent increase in her proposed school budget, leaving a gap the school system needs to bridge.
School officials expect to see about a $30 million increase from the state for next year’s budget, which can help cover the $46.6 million shortfall between their initial budget request and the reality of the local dollars at their disposal. Still, that leaves the school district in a $17 million hole.
Already, Garza’s budget included $98.1 million in cuts, resulting in larger class sizes and the elimination of more than 700 positions. Rather than search for further cuts, Garza advised the School Board to delay salary increases for school employees by four months to make up most of the shortfall.
“As we’ve cut and gotten tighter and tighter and tighter, it’s hard to go out there and balance the budget,” Garza said. “We’d have to find a million there, a million here to get to those larger amounts we’d have to get to.”
The School Board makes the final decision on the school spending plan. The budget vote is scheduled for its May 22 meeting.
The original budget put $41 million toward salary raises for 95 percent of FCPS employees. Garza’s new proposal would push these 2-percent step increases to later in the fiscal year. Most employees would see the bump in their paycheck starting in November, rather than the beginning of the fiscal year in July, with the rest rolled out throughout the year based on the details of their contracts.
The delay would save about $12 million to help cover the school system’s budget shortfall.
Smaller savings would have to cover the rest of the gap, including lowered projected expenses for health insurance and enrollment growth.
Actually, such savings coupled with the delayed salary increase would result in a small surplus. Under Garza’s plan, this money would be used to eliminate planned AP and IB testing fees for students and protect assistant principal positions at smaller schools.
School Board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) questioned parts of Garza’s plan, particularly the postponement of the salary increases.
“We said that employee compensation is one of the most important things we’re doing with this budget,” McLaughlin said. “But the shortfall is going to come off employee compensation.”
McLaughlin pointed specifically to the planned AP and IB testing fees, which would save the school system $4 million, as one chunk of money that could be put toward teacher compensation.
“I can look at our budget right now and look at wants versus needs, and it is not going to be that hard to find $12 million to make the step happen,” McLaughlin said.
Other School Board members supported the proposal to nix the AP and IB exam fees. School Board member Ryan McElveen (At-large) noted that making students pay for the tests could discourage participation in the advanced classes.
School Board members will take public comment on the budget at hearings on May 13 and 14, and will have the opportunity to propose amendments to Garza’s plan ahead of the final vote May 22.