School board approves raises for FCPS staff but says state funding still inadequate

Fairfax County Public Schools (file photo)

All Fairfax County Public Schools employees will get a bump in their paychecks, starting next year, after the school board unanimously approved 2% raises last week.

The additional pay was made possible by the budget that the Virginia General Assembly belatedly adopted in early September, which provided money to raise teacher salaries across the state. But school board members and FCPS workers argue that overall state funding for education falls far short of what they need.

“While the 2% raise is a start, it is clearly insufficient in ensuring our professionals are compensated at their full value, nor does it bridge the gap enough for family liaisons, drivers, [instructional assistants] and others to earn a wage that allows them to reside in Fairfax County,” Mason District Representative Ricardy Anderson, chair of the school board’s budget committee, said before the vote on Thursday (Oct. 26).

Effective Jan. 1, the 2% raise will ensure FCPS can “retain teachers at the status quo, essentially,” keeping pace with other school districts in the state, Mount Vernon District Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders said. Loudoun, Arlington, Prince William and Alexandria schools have also approved the increase, FCPS staff told the board.

State formula underestimates school staffing costs

According to the meeting agenda, FCPS is getting a $19.7 million increase in state revenue from the revised fiscal year 2024 budget. However, only $5.3 million of that was designated for the 2% raises, with the remainder intended as “reimbursement” for support staff positions, Anderson explained at the school board meeting.

With the raises costing a total of $30.5 million, FCPS is taking advantage of “flexibility allowed with” the support staff funding to allocate that $14.4 million to the compensation supplement, Anderson said. The remaining gap will be filled by $10.8 million from the school system’s staffing reserve, which is set aside in case more positions are needed than anticipated in each year’s budget.

The reserve will still have enough money for about 99 staff positions, FCPS Chief Financial Officer Leigh Burden told the board, noting that new positions aren’t often added after October “because of the potential disruption of adding teacher positions once the school year has started.”

In other words, the “burden” of funding the school system and its employees “rests largely on local funds,” Anderson said.

The standards of quality (SOQ) formula that Virginia uses to calculate the number of positions each school division needs and how much they will cost “substantially” underestimates actual school needs, according to a report released in July by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), which evaluates programs and provides state agency oversight for the General Assembly.

The report found that Virginia provides 14% less funding per student than the national average, trailing Maryland by 18% and West Virginia by a whopping 25%.

“The points made in the study about Virginia being one of the lowest paid states for teachers in the United States is an abysmal statistic to behold,” Tamara Derenak Kaufax, who represents Franconia District on the school board, said. “…We cannot continue to be last in the nation in this, with the pay for our teachers in particular, so it is something that we will continue to fight for.”

Unions advocate for more compensation

While appreciative of the new pay increase, FCPS employee union representatives say it isn’t enough to fully address shortages of teachers and other staff, a challenge facing school districts across the U.S.

This school year, FCPS hasn’t encountered as many issues with hiring and retention as last year, but “we still found ourselves scrambling to ensure all classrooms have a teacher,” Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President David Walrod told FFXnow.

He noted that the 2% raises will be countered by an 8% increase in health insurance costs. FCPS is contributing slightly more than usual toward employee premiums for 2023 after switching providers to Cigna, according to the FY 2024 budget.

“While we certainly appreciate receiving an additional salary bump, the reality is that the change in paycheck will be negligible, or even negative, for most employees,” Walrod said. “The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers is committed to working with the school board and board of supervisors to ensure that all teachers and educational staff receive robust compensation that demonstrates a commitment to long-term retention of staff.”

Fairfax Education Association President Leslie Houston called the raise “a crucial step” in ensuring FCPS can retain and support “exceptional educators,” but she argued that it can’t continue relying on staffing reserves to fund salaries.

In addition to the state updating its staffing formula and eliminating a cap on support positions, the county needs to continue giving FCPS its full funding requests, she said. Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity had advocated for reducing funds for the school system in the current budget to provide more tax relief.

“It is our hope that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the State will recognize the urgency of this situation and take action to ensure that our educators receive the compensation they deserve,” Houston said. “Together, we can maintain the high standard of education that Fairfax County Public Schools are known for.”

Both unions are hopeful that collective bargaining — a right secured for FCPS employees this spring — will begin in time to affect the next budget, which will be presented in January. However, they “still have work to do to call for an election,” Walrod said.

The school board has approved pay raises for all FCPS workers in each of the past three budgets, according to Providence District Representative Karl Frisch, the board’s current vice chair.

“Teachers and school staff deserve a lot more than we’re giving them in this pay increase,” Frisch said. “But this vote is a step in the right direction, and it shows that we value their hard work and dedication to our schools and our students.”

Read more on FFXnow…

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