Fairfax Board Recommends Full VRS Shift, Pay Increase for 2014 Budget
School board brainstorms ways to cut at nearly $150 million deficit in the next budget cycle.
The Fairfax County School Board wants to give teachers a 1 percent pay increase next year to boost employees' pay as they shoulder more state-mandated payout into their retirement funds.
But given the nearly $150 million deficit the board faces in Fiscal Year 2014 — not including an expected $90.8 million in program costs — employees likely won't see step increases or a large market scale adjustment, the board said Monday as it began to discuss how to balance priorities with one of the largest budget gaps the system has seen.
Driving the deficit: An estimated membership increase of 2,250 students, which will cost about $28.5 million; a $26.8 million shortfall after the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) reserve is depleted; a beginning balance $15.9 million less than in FY 2013 and employee compensation needs, according to board documents.
"Right now I think it’s a little bit foolish to talk about raises given the scenario we’re presented with," Patty Reed (Providence) said.
The board last year phased in the first 2 of a mandated 5-percent shift in employee contributions to the VRS. The state, starting last year, requires a minimum of a one percent shift each year to meet the obligation, but many members said Monday they preferred completing the 3 percent shift this year because delaying it would cost the system more over time.
To offset that burden on teachers, board members also recommended exploring a 1 percent reduction in the amount employees pay into the Educational Employees' Supplementary Retirement System of Fairfax County (ERFC), which would cost the system $13.5 million. About 80 percent of the county's employees pay into the system, FCPS Chief Financial Officer Susan Quinn said.
A 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment, which board chair Ilyrong Moon (At-large) suggested Superintendent Jack Dale explore, would cost the system $18.9 million.
The system would need a 6 percent increase in its budget to close the gap, either through an increased transfer from the county's Board of Supervisors, more state or federal aid or a larger beginning balance, which could be found in part through a review of the FY 2013 budget — scheduled for November — for reductions.
Quinn and other officials said anything above last year's transfer from the Board of Supervisors — $1.68 billion — was unlikely.
School board members struggled Monday with presenting a need-based budget — and what "needs-based" truly means.
The issue is at the center of what many describe as the school board's strained relationship with the county supervisors.
"They feel that we have been not working with them honestly in order to come to an agreement up front on what is considered needs-based and what is realistic ... [which] may or may not be the same thing," Reed said.
Some members suggested presenting a zero-based budget with only mandated expenditures and teacher compensation needs, and a second with programs that reflect the board's other priorities, at their next joint meeting with the Board of Supervisors in November.
The board asked Superintendent Jack Dale to return to a work session next month with more detailed financial information on school staffing formulas, administrative, contracts, professional development and the amount of money spent on substitutes, among other areas of possible reductions.
Dale will also seek budget priorities at that time to help guide the funding plan he'll present in January -- his last before retiring in June 2013.
"If we don’t see good faith reductions then it doesn’t even look like we’re making a good faith effort at all," board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) said. "We will be in far better footing to advocate ... with the Board of Supervisors [if we do so]."
Dan Storck (Mt. Vernon) also asked for an "in-depth, drill-down" presentation on the administrative elements of the system's budget, open to all school board members who wish to get a better sense of how that money is spent.
"That’s our single most sensitive area," Storck said. "And I think if we were all more educated about it we’d be better off," both in terms of the school board's relationship with the public and also with the Board of Supervisors.
Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Steve Greenburg, whose organization represents 4,200 county teachers, said after Monday's work session he supports the board's recommendations, which prioritize employee compensation. But, he added, it's too early to know what's possible without a clearer picture of what the state and county can offer.