As he presented his $2.5 billion budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2014 on Thursday, Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Dale threw up a "red flag" about the county's ability to pay teachers compared to other neighboring jurisdictions, which could hurt its ability to attract and retain educators, he said.
Dale's proposed budget is $62.7 million larger than last year's budget but relies heavily on a proposed 5.5 percent increase ($92.4 million) in funding from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors — for a total transfer of $1.77 billion — as a revenue source.
Compensation — including an extra 293 positions to accommodate student growth and the costs of benefits and a state-mandated Virginia Retirement System shift — makes up about 88 percent of the system’s budget.
While it also calls for a 1 percent market scale adjustment for all teachers next year, which will cost the system about $18.9 million, the budget doesn’t provide step increases or other potential raises officials had considered in a fiscal forecast last fall.
Read more about Dale's proposed FY 2014 budget.
That doesn't help the system keep pace with its neighbors — a problem that will worsen in coming years, said Dale, who gave his last budget presentation Thursday ahead of his June retirement.
Fairfax will be able to remain in the middle of the pack for average starting teachers salaries at $45,161, for now, Dale said. With more experience, the county continues to drop.
Fairfax is fourth from the bottom on a list of what jurisdictionspay teachers with master's degrees, giving an average of $58,303 a year compared to leader Arlington's $71,982. It is second to last when comparing "maximum teacher salaries" for the area's most experienced teachers: Educators in Fairfax peak at $96,039, but can reach $109,078 in Arlington.
And Fairfax will likely fall lower on those lists, Dale said.
Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Steve Greenburg said those differences will motivate teachers to drive "10 miles down the road" to work in a system in which they're paid better.
"In the last 10 years we have gone from one of the most attractive school systems in the [Washington] area to at best middle of the road, and we're even moving toward the bottom," said Greenburg, whose group represents 4,265 teachers. "We are not getting the support form the state or the supervisors to even handle the growth increases let alone to compensate our employees appropriately," he said.
Dale said unless there is an increase in transfer from the county board of supervisors — which comes mostly from real estate and personal property taxes— or another outside source of revenue, the trend will continue.
County Executive Ed Long said this fall he anticipated being able to give the school system an $84.2 million increase in transfer.
Long said last month it wasn't clear if county employees would receive pay increases in FY 2014; he also said he was considering a two-year employee compensation system: in odd years, giving cost of living increases and in even years giving regular and performance-based pay bumps.
Not only does it make pay raises more manageable in the county's budget year to year, he said, but it's also more predictable in tough economic environments.
Dale said Long's proposal came out too late for him to consider it in his plan, or discuss it with the school board.
"If the people in Fairfax County — the businesses, the parents, the citizens — care about that and think that's important... they need to prioritize education, not just with their mouths but with their money," Greenburg said.
"I don’t really believe it's an issue of our school board not prioritizing," he added. "This is an issue of funding."
Kathy Smith (Sully) said she was concerned about some larger issues not adequately addressed in Dale's proposal, like employee compensation, that the board will have to find ways to solve.
"I don’t know if that can be done in this budget year," she said.