Thousands of Fairfax County school employees are likely to receive raises in January as the School Board looks to boost lagging morale in the workforce.
Board members focused on teacher compensation Thursday as they worked to finalize next year’s $2.5 billion budget and address recent reports that Fairfax employees have sought jobs in neighboring districts with higher pay.
“We already look bad,” said board member and former Fairfax teacher Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill). “This business about Fairfax County not paying its teachers, that is not the story that Fairfax County wants to tell.”
During a work session that ended late Thursday, the board members discussed options to fund teacher raises, bus replacements for the school system’s aging 1,600-vehicle fleet, and expanding foreign language instruction in elementary schools.
Among the options for raises board members are considering is a 2 percent market scale adjustment that would take effect in January for the district’s 26,100 employees.
That option would be funded partly by a one-time payment of $6.3 million from the state to raise teacher salaries.
Board member Ted Velkoff (At Large) said he did not approve of using one-time funding to solve a recurrent problem. Instead, Velkoff supported a plan offered by board member Ryan McElveen (At Large) that would provide employees with a salary increase in April and set aside funding for an additional increase in 2015.
Board member Kathy Smith (Sully) said she wanted to draft an amendment “pledging” to employees that the administration would pursue the second part of the salary increase in 2015, when more money may be available.
A delayed, or step, increase has only been funded once in the past five years, said Susan Quinn, the school system’s chief financial officer. For that reason, Velkoff said, he would be voting for McElveen’s option.
“I will credit Mr. McElveen with a stroke of genius,” Velkoff said. “We would be making a commitment that we are going to do [the step]. And that’s more than just words.”
Board members Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) and Patty Reed (Providence) also presented a budget amendment to provide funding for 14 additional school psychologists and social workers. In March, administrators said the school system faced a shortage of mental health professionals that had led to unsustainable workloads for the psychologists and social workers.
Most of the board members agreed to pursue the hiring of the additional mental health professionals, at a cost of $1.35 million for five school psychologists and nine social workers.
Janie Strauss (Dranesville), urging fiscal restraint, said the problem was finding the money to pay for them as well as the other budget line items.
This year, the County Board of Supervisors, dealing with a slow economic recovery in the county, left the School Board with a multimillion-dollar deficit when supervisors cut funding to the school system.
Strauss reiterated that paying for certain programs would cost the school system in the future and that the district must address a $130 million shortfall in its fiscal 2015 budget.
Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) said that no matter the cost, she strongly supports hiring additional mental health professionals.
“Quite often, I’m a little disturbed because we only talk about what things cost, when we should talk about what they save,” Schultz said.
She said mental health professionals save the school system money through preventive work to keep students’ personal issues from becoming classroom discipline problems or worse.
“Sometimes you have to spend money to save money,” Schulz said. “I see this as saving money, but more importantly, saving lives.”