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Superintendent Proposes Perks

Facing a $70 million budget shortfall and the knowledge that Fairfax County Public Schools is proposing the lowest pay raise compared with neighboring jurisdictions, schools superintendent Daniel Domenech is proposing a series of employee initiatives aimed at compensating staff without breaking the piggy bank.

In all, of the more than 10 incentives, only one will have an impact on the FY ‘03 proposed budget. The remaining proposals push costs back to FY ‘04 or offer nonfinancial compensation.

"There is in the budget an increase in step for staff. … We do recognize it will probably be less than all other jurisdictions," Domenech said at the School Board's regular business meeting March 21. "We might want to do something for our employees to let them know we feel they're the best."

AMONG THE RECOMMENDATIONS is reducing this school year by two days, June 19 and either June 17 or 18, making June 14 the last day for all students. Originally, June 18 was scheduled as the last day for students, but Domenech is proposing to cash in two unused snow days. High-school graduations, scheduled to take place over June 13-18 will not be affected.

"The law requires we have 180 school days. We always build our calendar for 183 days," said School Board chair Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill). "We used one snow day in the fall, so we have two extra."

Mitch Luxenberg, president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs, said he does not expect parents to object to the early closing.

"It would be a larger impact on parents to have to deal with the snow," Luxenberg said. "I think I can speak for other parents when I say we're thankful we didn't have to deal with the snow days. We would gladly trade off."

In addition, the plan proposes making July 5 a holiday, so that support personnel who do not benefit from snow days get a little break.

Domenech is also proposing to extend the length of the contract for assistant principals to 11 months. The move is estimated to add $85,000 to the proposed FY ‘03 budget.

Based on a reduction of federal and state funding totaling more than $46 million and the proposed transfer from the county Board of Supervisors, the School Board is already looking at cutting about $71 million from the proposed $1.6 billion FY ‘03 schools budget.

"We've recognized for some time that when teachers move to become principals, they do so at a financial hardship," Domenech said.

Both actions will require approval from the School Board at its next meeting, scheduled for April 11.

In addition, the incentives include adding an additional step to the salary scale and the contribution of a half-percent of the employee contribution to the Virginia Retirement System.

The contribution, said Domenech, would increase employees' take-home pay.

Both initiatives would have costs deferred until FY ‘04.

MEMBERS OF THE SCHOOL BOARD said they were disappointed the measures were not first brought up during a work session, but they were generally supportive of the suggestions.

Reviews from two of the county's employee associations are mixed. Barbara Allen, president-elect of the Fairfax Education Association (FEA), spoke in favor of the incentives, while Judy Johnson, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, released a statement saying the incentives amount to raises for administrators and not teachers.

In all, the school system has 20,976 employees. The FEA represents 6,500 teachers and support personnel. The Federation of Teachers represents 3,100 nonsupervisory educators in the school system.

"These items will improve the working conditions and morale of teachers and support professionals. Your support for these agreements will signal your appreciation for the hard work teachers and support professionals consistently deliver," Allen told the School Board. "Your support will indicate your recognition that we need time to prepare in order to perform our jobs well. It will signify your recognition that teachers and school employees also deserve an occasional perk and pat on the back."

Johnson on the other hand, said the pay incentives contain no additional pay for teachers, while proposing a 10-percent pay increase for assistant principals. She also said the proposal cancels the last two days of school but does not offer teachers any added pay.

"Starting in September 2003, the superintendent is proposing that the school system would pay half-percent VRS [Virginia Retirement System] contribution paid by employees. This would raise take-home pay by half a percent for all staff. However, Domenech is also proposing to add an extra step at the top of the administrative pay scale, worth 3.3 percent. This brings his proposal for administrators to 3.8 percent. The 3.3-percent step at the top would also increase administrator retirement pay," Johnson said. "To summarize, for the next year, the superintendent's incentives have no new pay for teachers but a 10-percent salary increase for assistant principals. For 2003-04, he raises teacher take-home pay by half a percent and administrative pay by nearly 4 percent.

"It's the golden rule of budgeting in the Fairfax schools: Those who write the budget get the gold."