The Fairfax County School Board passed a final $2.6 billion budget Thursday night that includes pay raises for teachers, funding for full-day Mondays for elementary schools and later high school start times.
The board voted 10 to 2 in favor of the fiscal 2016 budget, culminating what has been a year mostly free of the drama caused by deep cuts and layoffs that accompanied the last round of budget negotiations.
The School Board received 99.8 percent of the funding it had requested from the county Board of Supervisors and in the end fulfilled a series of initiatives approved earlier this school year. But School Board members noted that the fiscal 2017 budget process could again resemble last year’s dire situation, with calls for further cuts as the administration faces a projected $100 million shortfall.
“Today, this budget ends, but we know that tomorrow the even harder work begins,” said board Chairman Tammy Derenak Kaufax (Lee). “We have a growing student population with diverse needs, and we know that our ability to meet and serve the needs of our children is at jeopardy right now.”
The new budget includes a 3.1 percent raise for most school staff members, $4.9 million to pay for extending the school day on Mondays in elementary schools and $4.9 million to delay the first classes of the day in high schools to after 8 a.m. The budget also includes $3.9 million in funding to decrease ballooning class sizes in certain areas of the county.
The school system, the largest in Virginia with 187,000 students and 196 schools, has struggled in recent years to keep up with neighboring districts in average pay for its 22,000 employees.
Superintendent Karen Garza has said the lagging pay has led to an exodus of talent to neighboring Arlington County, where teachers are among the highest-paid in the Washington area. The average teacher salary in Fairfax is $66,782; in Arlington, the average is $76,892.
Fairfax Education Association President Kimberly Adams said that the pay raises will improve teacher compensation but represent less than the school board had promised.
But the association is “significantly more concerned about [fiscal year 2017], with the potential $100 million-dollar deficit,” Adams said. “We look forward to working with the superintendent and School Board to educate the public about the funding needs of our school system.”
In Thursday’s meeting, School Board members blamed the county’s supervisors and state legislators for not providing Fairfax with extra funding. Next year, the schools must pay for additional retirement benefits for teachers at a cost of more than $50 million.
Vice Chairman Ted Velkoff (At Large) said that he campaigned to join the School Board to help address what he saw as a dysfunctional relationship between the two county boards. Velkoff said that the supervisors again left him disappointed.
“I had the naive or optimistic view that I could make a difference,” Velkoff said. “That hasn’t come to pass.”
Garza said last month that the supervisors were threatening the quality of the school system by not fulfilling the schools’ funding request.
“Supervisors are sending a clear message that they are unconcerned about the increasing challenges of our students, our teachers, and our schools,” Garza said. “The entire Fairfax County community has a critical decision to make: Either we invest the necessary funds in our students and schools, or we will have to work together to decide what to cut, and we cannot cut our way to excellence.”
School Board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) said that the board should delve into the budget one line item at a time to find savings. She said that the new budget, while not a complete success, will have to suffice.
“We’ve got to be happy with what we have, not unhappy with what we don’t have,” said Schultz, who along with board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) voted against the budget.