Though Superintendent Jack Dale presented his recommendation for adjustments to Fairfax County Public Schools' $2.4 billion advertised budget at a work session Monday, some school board members said they weren't satisfied his proposed changes fully met their priorities or produced a budget that best met the needs of the system.
Dale returned to the board after the system's $1.68 billion transfer from the county Board of Supervisors, an amount 4.5 percent higher than what schools received last year but still short of the 8.4 percent increase board members asked for when they moved forward the approved advertised budget.
Despite the school board's approval of the advertised budget in February, Dale and School Board Chairwoman Janie Strauss (Dranesville) presented a 5 percent increase request to the supervisors in April rather than representing the transfer request for which the board voted — a move that drew criticism both from fellow board members and teachers unions.
To close the $36.7 million funding gap the board now faces, Dale's latest proposal calls for the elimination of step increases for eligible employees and 2 percent market-scale adjustment included in the advertised budget the board approved in February — compensation adjustments board members called a top priority earlier this year.
The compensation changes, Dale said Monday, are largely a result of legislation in this year's General Assembly requiring public school employees who participate in the Virginia Retirement System to pay a 5 percent employee contributions, which school systems currently pay. To offset the increased contribution, the legislation also requires school systems to pay a 5 percent salary increase to employees.
School systems have the choice of implementing the change all at once or over the course of five years; Dale's proposal would have FCPS complete the 5 percent shift in fiscal year 2013 and cost $52.2 million.
Along with the 5 percent contribution to VRS, Dale proposes the school board take on 2 percent of the teachers' contributions to the Educational Employees' Supplementary Retirement System of Fairfax County (ERFC) — a local retirement fund to which members currently pay 4 percent — as a way to ease their increased contribution to the state fund.
Those who participate in both funds would be required to contribute a total of 7 percent of their pay toward retirement next year, according to his plan.
At Monday's work session, school board members expressed uncertainty about Dale's latest budget plan, noting that there are many more options for how to implement the VRS changes than Dale's preferred plan.
"I will tell everyone my greatest hesitation with the idea of just doing the VRS all in one shot is: Where will we find ourselves short in program offerings coming into FY 2013 for anything else?" Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) said. "Because as I understand it, it's like paying for your whole car at once versus spreading out your car payments over five years. Yes, with interest it costs more in that regard, but does it also enable us to really have a budget that meets the needs of the school system."
Susan Quinn, FCPS' chief financial officer, acknowledged the many options for how to adhere with the new VRS legislation.
"Because there are so many different scenarios that you can do, we're trying to understand what the board's consensus or priorities are because you could run this 50 different ways," Quinn said. "You can do multiple things with that $52 million but it's going to have a different cost associated with it going down the road."
Both Fairfax Education Association and Fairfax County Federation of Teachers sent letters of support for a plan that would phase in the increased VRS contribution at 1 percent for fiscal year 2013 and leaves ERFC untouched to free up more money for other employee benefits, such as a cost-of-living adjustment.
The presidents of both teachers unions said they are not yet worried the school board would adopt Dale's latest plan without more work.
"We've been talking with the board members, and we're confident they will come up with an agreeable budget plan on their own, separate from his," FCFT President Steven Greenburg said. "I trust this board. I don't trust [Dale], but I trust them."
A picture of the final fiscal year 2013 budget is far from clear, members said. They emphasized the budget public hearing, scheduled for 6 p.m. today, would hold significant weight in how the board proceeds.
Member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) said the board also had at its disposal more than 200 pages of budget responses from the system's staff about specific item questions.
"We have a tremendous basis from which to potentially cultivate our own solution to this," Schultz said. "... The superintendent has provided one solution. ... It doesn't mean that that's the only one. It doesn't mean that we have to select $52 million as kind of the comfort zone. That presumes that everything else pretty much stays the same and that we're just applying where shifts go or where labor goes."
Dale presented other adjustments to the advertised budget at Monday's meeting:
- The elimination of a $2.4 million expenditure reduction placeholder, which would have funded the elimination of student athletic fees; a best practices study on early education services;the recording of all School Board work sessions.
- The elimination of an increase in school board member staff, including a School Board auditor position
- The elimination of $3.3 million that would have provided extended time for teachers.
- A decrease from $2 million to $0.8 million for preventive maintenance.
- The addition of $0.1 million to improve the school board office's constituent communications, including one position.
- The elimination of a $0.3 million in support of the Electronic Curriculum Assessment Resource Tool (eCART) program
- The elimination of funding, $84,501, for a teacher-in-residence at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
The school board is scheduled to adopt the fiscal year 2013 budget May 24.