“We will do the best we can with what we have.” That was Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Sharon Bulova’s response to the public school system board chair Sandy Evans’ final presentation of their $2.8 billion FY2018 budget before a public hearing on April 4.
Evans opened the first of three days of public hearings on the full county budget for FY2018. Forty-seven speakers had signed up to address the board following Evans, who was joined in the main Fairfax County Government Center auditorium by several other members of the School Board, FCPS staff, teachers, principals and interim Superintendent Steven Lockard.
The FCPS chairman reiterated what the school system’s board has advertised as the need for a 5.9 percent increase over the county’s transfer for FY2017. That’s a 5.1 percent increase, or $135.1 million, over the previous school system operating budget.
Based on the county budget advertised by County Executive Ed Long, their proposed transfer for FY2018 would fall short of the FCPS request by nearly $50 million.
Evans said the budget reflects two main priorities of addressing employee compensation and classroom resources, as well as several cost drivers out of the board’s control including increased enrollment (the system has 188,000 students), retirement contribution rate increases, and employee health insurance increases.
“It’s clear, whatever we do, will only moderate this increase,” Evans said. “It won’t eliminate it.”
Evans said the transfer increase of $51 million proposed by Long doesn’t cover the required budget increases of $55.9 million.
“There’s a gap,” she said, “even before we consider pay increases of any kind, any teacher scale adjustments.”
TEACHER SALARIES in FCPS, the School Board has repeated, have fallen short of surrounding school systems, which they say has lured away many experienced, trained teachers as well as strong candidates for new ones.
FCPS began the 2016-2017 school year with more than 170 vacancies, Evans said, particularly in math, science, ESOL and special education.
Overcoming obstacles including and stemming from what she said is disproportionate from the state and federal government relative to the rest of Virginia, as well as the growing number of high needs students in FCPS, can “only be solved by making necessary investments in our education system.”
Bulova acknowledged that “any member of this board will tell you education is our number one priority.” The chairman lamented that the proposed Meals Tax referendum did not past last fall, and that work to change the impact of the Virginia Retirement System “just didn’t happen as well.”
But Bulova praised the budget work being done jointly between the two boards. “Never before have we had a closer working relationship to try to achieve our mutual goals,” she said.
Two individual speakers, Joe Connor of Fairfax and James Parmelee of Centreville, each suggested the supervisors and school system could do a better job managing taxpayer money.
Connor was critical of the FCPS pension program ensuring county employees are “multi-millionaires at retirement” and that with the threat of cutting services to students, FCPS is “allowed to confiscate income from the private sector.”
Parmelee held up a sign from the fall 2016 election cycle encouraging residents to vote “no” for the proposed tax on prepared foods, or meals tax.
“People had a choice,” he said, “more taxes for what the majority claimed are necessary expenditures. People overwhelmingly voted against the tax a majority of you wanted.”
Parmelee said the supervisors should keep that in mind, perhaps alluding to the real estate tax increase passed in the previous budget cycle to help fully fund the FCPS budget.
“You all touched the hot stove, got burned a little bit,” he said of the meals tax. “I hope you’re a little wiser for it. Please don’t forget it.”
Two more days of public hearings on the FY2018 budget were scheduled for April 5 and 6.
THE COUNTY BUDGET COMMITTEE will meet April 21 for a pre-markup, before the full markup on April 25. The supervisors are scheduled to adopt the FY2018 budget May 2, followed by FCPS adopting an approved budget May 11.
More information from Fairfax County about its advertised FY2018 budget is available online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dmb/fy2018/advertised/overview.htm.
More information on the FCPS FY2018 advertised budget is available online at www.fcps.edu/about-fcps/budget/FY2018.