Fairfax County superintendent Karen Garza said she will provide salary raises for teachers in her proposal for next year’s budget in order to boost morale and make the school system more attractive to potential employees.
An expanded employee compensation package would likely cost the school system an additional $42.7 million, on top of the $140.7 million deficit that Garza and the school board already are facing for next year. But Garza said that employee salaries are among her top priorities as she formulates her proposed fiscal year 2015 budget.
Garza told parents and teachers at a community meeting at J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church Wednesday night that the administration faces “a daunting challenge” in addressing the projected deficit. Garza said, however, that her goal was to propel Fairfax County to the top of area teacher-compensation rankings within five years.
Fairfax froze teacher pay during the recession, causing the county’s 15,000 teachers to fall behind their colleagues in other school districts in terms of compensation.
According to statistics from the Washington Area Boards of Education, Fairfax County ranks below Arlington County, Montgomery County and Alexandria City in average teacher pay. For more experienced teachers, Fairfax ranks among the lowest in the region, besting only Loudoun County and Manassas City and Manassas Park.
In recent years, the school board has sought to address the widening disparity with modest salary increases. Last year, the school board approved $22 million in employee raises, part of which the administration must pay in 2015. About $15.9 million of that money contributes to the $140.7 million deficit projected for next year, along with $27.2 million in increased health-care costs and $25 million in costs related to the school system’s surging enrollment growth.
The proposed raises Garza described Wednesday could increase the school system’s deficit to about $185 million.
Earlier this year, the county board of supervisors told the school board to prepare for a 2 percent increase in funding worth about $34 million. If the supervisors provide the two percent increase, and Garza opts for the $42.7 million in raises, the schools would still have a deficit of about $149 million.
To address the deficit, the school system is weighing changes to its $2.5 billion budget including cuts to elementary school language instruction and increasing class sizes by one student.
“Our needs have far outpaced our revenue,” Garza said. “We have to make some really difficult cuts moving forward.”