Fairfax Schools Superintendent warns of more cuts

FAIRFAX, Va. (WUSA) -- In the middle of a snow shower people came out to rally for more funding for Fairfax County Schools.

"There is no fluff. We've been working with an austerity budget for six years. We must fund our schools," said a PTA representative to the crowd.

Fairfax County Executive Edward Long presented his proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget to the Board of Supervisors today. He proposed a General Fund budget of $3.7 billion for FY 2015, an increase of 3.29 percent over last year's budget. The total of all appropriated funds is $6.955 billion, which includes the General Fund as well as other funds such as state and federal grants.

Long's proposed transfer to the schools is $1.75 billion, an increase of $34 million dollars, or 2 percent over last year.

"We're got to have more money," said Superintendent Dr. Karen Garza. Her $2.5 billion budget contains $96 million in cuts which will help pay for teacher raises. But, it also counts on a 5.7 percent increase from the county.

"We have a goose that lays golden eggs and we're just asking that it be fed a little bit more," said McLean Physics teacher Dean Howarth.

According to the Washington Area Boards of Education, WABE, the average 2014 salary for Fairfax County teachers is $67,245, considerable less than neighboring jurisdictions. Alexandria's average teacher pay is $73,000; Montgomery County, Maryland is $74,038; and Arlington County is $74,903.

"We need to be at the top," so that we can have the best teachers in the classrooms, said Garza.

School supporters say more money is needed in part because the county the keeps growing and adding more students.

"If you have four more children, your grocery bill goes up. You can't keep flatling the transfer into the school system," said Howarth, the physics teacher.

While most if not all supervisor support teacher pay raises, how they get them is another thing.

Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity say Garza's budget does not account for attrition. "They've overfunded salaries," he said, referring to pay raises that are given to not just teachers but administrative staff as well.

The draft budget does not raise property tax rates. But, because of higher assessments for every Fairfax County homeowner, the average property tax bill would increase by about $330.

Chairman Sharon Bulova said that she would be in favor of advertising a higher rate in order to get the public's opinion on it. "Many people are still struggling. Salaries have been frozen. It's going to be a balancing act. We have to look at the needs of the entire county," said Bulova.

While supervisors are reticent to increase the tax rate, Superintendent Garza is firm with a warning if more funding isn't approved.

"I'm very fearful of additional cuts," said Garza.

Written by Peggy Fox


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