(Updated at 4:35 p.m.) Employee bonuses, facility improvements, and a study of middle school start times are among the priorities that Fairfax County Public Schools can now fund, thanks to some financial leeway from staff vacancies and state revenue.
The school system has about $90.9 million left over from fiscal year 2022, which ran from July 1, 2021 to June 30 of this year, FCPS leaders reported to the school board during its last regular meeting on July 14.
“This expenditure variance represents about 2.5% of the total budget and is a little larger than normal, due to the pandemic and attributed to greater vacancies and turnover in contracted employees and lower costs in hourly and overtime salary and in benefit savings,” Department of Financial Services Assistant Superintendent Leigh Burden said.
Since Virginia lawmakers didn’t adopt a state budget until early June, FCPS has received about $25.3 million more than anticipated in the fiscal year 2023 budget that the school board approved on May 26, taking effect on July 1.
The additional state revenue includes $18.1 million that must be put toward bonuses for instructional and support staff.
In total, FCPS has $116.3 million available for this fiscal year. With staff recommending setting aside about $21.8 million for next year, here’s how the school system plans to spend the remainder:
Employee bonuses ($33.9 million)
Contracted employees would get $1,000 bonuses, and a $500 bonus will go to hourly employees including substitute teachers, who work a minimum number ofdays. Burden said the bonuses are a nod to “the continued impact of the pandemic on education” and an effort to improve staff retention.
Staff reserves ($20 million)
FCPS is seeking to add 190 positions to its staffing reserve, since all 310 positions covered by the current budget have already been depleted.
“We have had increases in student enrollment over the last year, and there is potential for more growth through September,” Burden said. “…We need as much flexibility as possible in this area, and that is the best way to do it at this point in time.”
School construction fund ($16.8 million)
With some help from the county government, these funds will cover installations of permanent restrooms at 15 high school athletic stadiums, some backlogged maintenance projects, new softball dugouts at eight high schools, and synthetic turf field replacements at Oakton, Falls Church, and Woodson high schools.
FCPS has also received $24.2 million in state school construction grants that will be used to add security vestibules and outdoor classrooms at all schools without those facilities, upgrade bathrooms, introduce sensory rooms, replace interior security locks, and make all early childhood playgrounds ADA compliant.
The school board had directed staff to find funding for security vestibules at all schools in December 2019, but the facilities — which require visitors to get verified before accessing a building — were being built as part of scheduled renovation projects.
“Schools not currently scheduled for renovation needed to be planned for construction as stand-alone projects,” an FCPS spokesperson told FFXnow.
The school board voted in May to accelerate the process by prioritizing it for funding.
Construction on the additional outdoor learning spaces would begin next summer, if the spending plan is approved, according to FCPS.
“The outdoor learning spaces will be located either in an existing courtyard, or in the near vicinity of the school building near core teaching areas,” the spokesperson wrote. “Each space will include paved walkways, raised garden beds, seating, utilities (electric outlet and hose bib), and native grasses.”
FCPS says it has provided approximately 214 tents since piloting outdoor learning spaces in November 2020, and about 124 schools utilize existing courtyards as outdoor classrooms. It’s unclear how many schools may have both.
The year-end budget plan also allocates money for substitute recruitment incentives, food and kitchen equipment upgrades, a cost-share for electric buses, a review of safety and security procedures, adult and community education, the Young Scholars program, and an update to a 2020 study of middle school start times.
It also covers inflation costs for fuel, electricity, and paper, and the superintendent has been given a $3 million reserve “to address unforeseen divisionwide and continued pandemic needs.”
The school board is scheduled to vote on the year-end budget on Sept. 1. If approved, the plan will go to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, which will take action on the full carryover package on Oct. 11.
Photo via FCPS
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