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FCPS proposes funding for salaries, environmental initiatives with new budget

Fairfax County Public Schools is considering additional funding for electric school buses, among other priorities (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County Public Schools didn’t get all the money it wanted, but its next budget still has room to address some key priorities, including staff compensation and efforts to reduce the system’s carbon footprint.

Adopted by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (May 10), the county’s new budget for fiscal year 2023, which starts on July 1, trimmed $10 million from the $112.6 million increase in transfer funds sought by FCPS, officials reported to the school board earlier this week.

According to Superintendent Scott Brabrand, the reduction was part of an agreement with the county government to cut their respective budgets “just a bit…in a collective effort to support affordable housing in the county.”

“[That] is a major priority for the county and for the school system too, as many of our employees face rising housing costs to be able to live and work here,” Brabrand told the school board at the work session on Tuesday. “We are still in very, very good shape.”

FCPS officials said they will address the $10 million deficit by eliminating one of 17 planned professional development days.

The roughly $3.3 billion budget contains $12.7 million in placeholder funds to address any state-required expenditures and a market study requested by the school board last year that examined salaries for family liaisons and transportation workers.

With the study completed and no new requirements expected from the state, which is still negotiating its budget, those funds have been freed up to boost recruitment and retention, environmental initiatives, and other needs, as recommended by Brabrand.

Staff development and compensation

Brabrand’s recommendations devote about half of the available funds — $7 million — to employee recruitment and retention, including $4.3 million to extend all salary scales by a step.

The budget already covers a 4% market rate adjustment and step increases for eligible staff, but many veteran employees have reached the top of their scales. According to staff, FCPS offers fewer salary steps than other divisions, putting it at a disadvantage at a time when schools are struggling to find teachers, bus drivers, and more.

“Employees at the top of their respective scales may have enough to retire, but they’re still relatively young, productive, and provide value to FCPS and its students,” Assistant Superintendent of Financial Services Leigh Burden said. “We want to keep those staff members, and extending the salary scale one additional step is a way to do that.”

An additional $2 million will go to improving salaries specifically for family liaisons, who were found to be “significantly” below market, and transportation staff, including bus drivers, who could get an average compensation increase of 8.7% with this budget.

While rates for drivers are within market range, vacancies are still an issue, Burden told the school board, noting that compensation will be handled in the future through collective bargaining.

Brabrand also recommends allocating $1.4 million to professional development and $500,000 to a “Call Me Mister” program aimed at recruiting more male teachers and teachers of color.

Environmental initiatives

FCPS has proposed using $2.4 million and creating five new positions to adopt practices reducing the system’s waste and carbon emissions, support the ongoing transition from diesel to electric buses, and fund the Get2Green initiative, which encourages environmental stewardship.

The money also includes $100,000 for the Safe Routes to School program, which is currently being funded by a state grant that will expire at the end of FY 2022 on June 30.

The funding covers a first phase of recommendations from the county’s Joint Environmental Task Force, which issued a report in 2020 urging the government and school system to achieve zero solid waste by 2030, all-electric vehicle fleets by 2035, and carbon neutrality by 2040.

According to FCPS, full implementation of the recommendations will require $6.4 million and 15 positions over three years.

Other recommendations

Per FCPS’ presentation, the other $1.9 million in available funds could be directed to:

  • Special education novice teacher support ($0.6 million) — Reinstates five 208-day mentor teacher positions that had been repurposed
  • Virtual student mental health services ($500,000) — A possible partnership with the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board to begin telehealth service options for students
  • High school special education centers ($100,000) — An additional 0.5 librarian position at both Quander Road and Cedar Lane, which each currently have a half position
  • Calm space and sensory room ($38,274) — Equipment and student materials to implement sensory rooms at Burke School

There is another $700,000 remaining for the school board to determine how to allocate when it adopts a final FY 2023 budget on May 26.

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