Reston, VA

FCPS Superintendent Karen GarzaFairfax County Schools Superintendent Karen Garza presented a $2.6 billion budget to the school board on Thursday, saying the schools needed an increase of $64 million (2.6 percent) for Fiscal Year 2016.

Garza said the FY 2016 Proposed Budget addresses several significant rising costs such as growing enrollment and changing student demographics, as well as compensation increases for employees.

It also includes resources for full-day Mondays in the elementary schools, which were quickly implemented this school year without being fully funded, and the implementation of later high school start times, which will go into effect in 2015-16.

The budget will also address large elementary class sizes, a growing concern Garza heard on her recent principal’s listening tour stop in Reston.

“This is a realistic and practical budget that once again uses a shared approach of reducing expenditures and requesting additional revenue while protecting the classroom and programs for students,” Garza said in a statement.

“The FY 2016 Proposed Budget is not reflective of all the needs of the district. Recognizing the fiscal challenges we are currently facing now and in the future, we made a concerted effort to stay as close as possible to the budget guidance provided to us by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. We need a long-term strategy for funding our schools that is predictable and sustainable. Balancing each year’s budget on continued reductions is not sustainable and it will erode the quality of our school system.”

The FY 2016 Proposed Budget includes reductions of $55.4 million, which would be achieved through compensation base savings resulting from employee turnover; lower health insurance costs; reductions to centrally managed accounts including fuel, utilities, and employee benefits; and savings produced by last year’s system wide reorganization.

In 2015, the school system’s budget reductions totaled $97.8 million, which included the elimination of 723 positions. So far, no layoffs or eliminations are forecast for 2016.

Garza, who has been superintendent since 2013, said FCPS has taken historic reductions totaling nearly $435 million, including more than 2,175 positions since 2008. With the $55.4 million in reductions planned for FY 2016, total reductions since FY 2008 are now approaching $500 million.

FCPS will ask the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for an additional $70.6 million, or 3.99 percent, over FY 2015. That number takes into account the impact of the Governor’s budget proposal, which does not reduce K-12 funding.

The transfer request from the county is only $14 million, or 0.79 percent, above the guidance provided by the Board of Supervisors, which included a 3 percent transfer increase plus the cost associated with full-day Mondays. Nearly 72 percent of FCPS’ projected revenue is provided by the County, FCPS said.

FCPS anticipates receiving state aid of approximately $400 million, state sales tax of $182.3 million, federal aid of $42.2 million, and tuition payments from the City of Fairfax and other revenue of $62.9 million.

Some of the challenges facing FCPS:

Growth: FCPS is one of the largest school districts in the country. Since FY 2011, FCPS enrollment has grown by 13,171 students,  and is projected to be 188,104 for FY 2016. This enrollment growth, and the changing demographics associated with it (such as the need for additional English as a Second Language resources), will require an additional $18.6 million in FY 2016.

Compensation: The Proposed Budget includes $59.4 million for salary increases for FCPS employees, including a step increase for eligible employees and a 1 percent market scale adjustment for all employees.

When compared to nine other local school divisions, FCPS ranks fifth in starting teacher salaries, eighth in mid-career teacher salaries, and ninth in the maximum teacher salary.

“Our employees are our most valuable asset and compensation for our teachers is a priority in the FY 2016 Proposed Budget,” said Garza. “We are losing some of our best teachers and school administrators to neighboring school divisions because our salaries continue to lag behind. We must keep our outstanding employees for they are key to our past and future success.”

Per-pupil spending: Garza said that cost-cutting measures in recent years have allowed FCPS’s per-pupil spending to remain “in the middle when compared to other school districts in the metropolitan area.” However, the amount per pupil has increased just $464, or 3.5 percent, between FY 2009 and FY 2016. After adjusting for inflation, FCPS spending per pupil remains below the FY 2009 level.

There will be several chances for school board and citizen input on the budget, which go through many changes and compromises before being adopted by the school board in May.

The school board will hold public hearings on Jan. 26, and Jan. 27, (if needed) , as well as a work session on Jan. 29. The school board will present its budget to the Board of Supervisors April 7.

Photo: FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza/file photo

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