County, Schools Show Need for Virginia to Narrow Budget Gap

Virginia State Capitol, RichmondFairfax County expects a budget shortfall of $85 million for Fiscal Year 2017. Fairfax County Public Schools now predict the school system’s deficit will be $60 million.

That’s a lot of gap to narrow, and that was the focus of a joint budget forecast by county executive Ed Long and FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza last week to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors last week.

More than half the county’s spending (more than $2 billion) goes to education. But with continually shrinking state contributions and rising school system costs, the gap continues to grow, the supervisors said.

“State K-12 funding in 2016 remains below FY 2009 level,” said Mason Supervisor Penny Gross. “Virginia localities have spent $3.55 billion more per year to match state K-12 funding. The state funding cuts have come at a time when localities are increasingly serving children with special needs, including special education, those learning English as a Second Language and those living in economically disadvantaged households.”

“A state that is in top 10 in income should not be in bottom 10 in state educational funding, but that is where Virginia finds itself.”

State contributions aside, the county says several factors are contributing to its shortfall. Among them:

  • Slow local economic growth and net job losses in federal government and professional services
  • Decreased federal spending in county
  • Slight slowdown in housing market
  • Disbursement growth that is scheduled to outpace revenue growth, including an assumed 3 percent transfer to FCPS. The county said it plans an increase of $80 million in its transfer to schools (including debt service and capital funding) for 2017.
  • Increased county employee pay (an additional $39.66 million in 2017, plus an additional $7.58 million in benefits)

See a Power Point with more details on the county budget on the Fairfax County website.

Meanwhile, the school system, which has for months been engaging the community and a Budget Task Force in a conversation on how to narrow the deficit, told the county board of supervisors at last week’s joint work session that expenditures are expected to increase by more than $113 million in 2017.

The school system is now facing a projected $60.6 million budget shortfall. The number keeps changing (it was as high as $100 million last spring) because of uncertainties in enrollment and state contributions, says Garza.

Garza said FCPS is using a standard 3 percent transfer increase from the county in forecasting its FY 2017 budget.

According to the superintendent’s presentation, FCPS has made half a billion in cuts since 2008. During that same time frame, the increase in the county transfer totals $239.2 million. The increases in the county transfer have not historically covered the cost of four major budget drivers: enrollment, salary increases, retirement, and health, says Garza.

The Budget Task Force completed its report last month with suggestions for how to save the system money. Suggestions range from charging for athletic participation to eliminating language immersion programs to increasing class size.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe will release his proposed budget to the General Assembly on Dec. 17. Garza will release her proposed FCPS budget Jan. 8. The Fairfax County General Assembly delegation will hold a public hearing on Jan. 9. After many more discussions, public hearings and markup sessions, the school board will adopt its final FY 2017 budget in late May.

The supervisors also said last week that ensuring K-12 funding should be a top priority for local General Assembly members at the 2016 session. The board and the state reps will have a work session on Dec. 8.

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