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Posted at 04:52 PM ET, 05/16/2012

Fairfax teacher pay, retirement benefits are key issues in school budget debate

More than 50 teachers, parents, taxpayers and activists took advantage of an opportunity Tuesday to offer the Fairfax school board input on next year’s budget.

Some spoke in favor of benefits for parent liaisons, who translate language and culture for immigrant students and their families; expanded foreign language opportunities in elementary schools; and more money for adult education programs.

Others criticized the salaries of central-office administrators (which have grown faster than teachers' salaries, according to one group’s analysis) and the practice of farming out professional development and teacher training to consultants. (Fairfax will pay the Disney Co., for example, $50,000 to provide a leadership workshop for 50 employees, each of whom will receive Mickey graduation ears at the conclusion of of the training.)

And still others addressed the big issue that the school board will have to resolve before it finalizes the budget on May 24: employees’ pay and retirement benefits.

“It’s time to put your money where your mouth is,” South Lakes High School teacher Lauren Ashley Villa told the board Tuesday. “Otherwise, it’s patronizing to hear you on the air touting that FCPS has the best school teachers, absent of the tag line that you don’t pay them a third of what they are worth.”

The board had hoped in February to give employees their biggest pay hike since 2008: a 2 percent cost-of-living raise as well as step increases based on education and experience.

Since then, the General Assembly voted to overhaul the public employees’ pension system. That means local school systems will have to fork over millions of dollars for which they hadn’t previously budgeted.

In Fairfax, teachers are worried they will have to bear that fiscal burden.

The situation has already led to several school board debates, each replete with acronyms, percentages and conjecture and confusion about long-term fiscal impacts.

Here’s the quick rundown:

Under the new state law, school employees will now be required to contribute 5 percent of their salaries to the Virginia Retirement System. To compensate teachers for the hit to their pocketbooks, school systems are required to raise salaries by 5 percent over the next five years.

Superintendent Jack D. Dale wants to go ahead and do the whole 5-
Fairfax County Superintendent Jack Dale. (file - Shamus Ian Fatzinger/ Fairfax County Time)
percent switcheroo next year. To give teachers a bit of a pay bump, he wants to reduce the amount that teachers contribute to their county retirement program, from 4 percent of their salaries to 2 percent.

The net effect: Teachers would get no raise, but would see a 1.7 percent increase in take-home pay next year.

That suite of changes would cost $52 million next year.

Some teachers and school board members have argued that it makes more sense to phase in the retirement changes, which would mean a smaller bill this year and more flexibility to pay for other priorities.

Meanwhile, the county’s two biggest teacher associations want a real raise, not a reduction in their contributions to the county retirement system.

After all, no raise means a lower salary; a lower salary means smaller retirement benefits.

The Fairfax Education Association and Fairfax County Federation of Teachers are asking for a 4 percent cost-of- living raise. Their plan, which includes continuing to pay 4 percent to the county retirement system and phasing in the state retirement changes, would cost $80 million this year.

The school board has one more scheduled budget work session — Thursday — before it votes on the final budget next week.

By  |  04:52 PM ET, 05/16/2012

Tags:  fairfax county public schools

 
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