Fairfax County schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand

Fairfax County schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s proposed $3.2 billion fiscal year 2021 operating budget would provide more than $90 million in additional employee compensation and cover the costs of higher enrollment and increased special-education needs.

The budget, which Brabrand presented at the Fairfax County School Board’s Jan. 9 business meeting, would be $172.2 million, or 5.8 percent, higher than the previous fiscal year’s approved budget.

The proposed budget “continues to prioritize market competitive compensation for our teachers and staff,” Brabrand said. “My goal is to have FCPS leading the way in teacher compensation in our region.”

The budget includes $50.1 million for step increases for eligible employees, $25.3 million for a 1-percent cost-of-living adjustment and $15.4 million for further salary-scale enhancements.  

Another $2.7 million would finance the second year of a three-year plan to bring salaries of instructional and public-health-training assistants to 50 percent of the salary scale for teachers holding bachelor’s degrees.

The budget also includes $28.8 million for enrollment and student demographic adjustments. The school system’s projected enrollment this year is 189,837 students, who attend classes in 199 schools and centers. That equals 1,423 more students than under the approved fiscal 2020 budget, after excluding students served outside the school system and Fairfax Adult High School, said schools spokesman Lucy Caldwell.

The budget seeks an $89.7 million, or 4.2-percent increase, in the county’s transfer. Brabrand thanked the Board of Supervisors and County Executive Bryan Hill for their continued support and called the proposed budget “transparent and deserving of full funding.”

“It continues to ensure that every student receives an equitable education in an inclusive environment where access, opportunity and achievement are afforded to all,” Brabrand said.

The budget would dedicate $601.6 million for special-education services – up 7.5 percent over fiscal 2020 budget – to pay for teachers, assistants and attendants who are supporting nearly 1,000 more special-education students. The increase “also recognizes a shift toward greater levels of resource-intensive services provided to special-education students,” he said.

Toward that end, $3.5 million would be set aside for special-education chairman positions at elementary schools that have large special-education populations.

The budget also includes:

• $13.3 million to cover projected health-insurance increases and $15.6 million for employer-contribution rate increases to the Virginia Retirement System.  

• $4 million to expand FCPSOn, which now provides computers all high-school students, to middle schools and maintain the high school’s ongoing laptop-lease obligations.

• $3.5 million for staffing to ensure low class sizes at schools with higher numbers of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

• $300,000 for substance-abuse-prevention specialists who will support what the school system calls its “equity plan for discipline policies and practices.”

• $300,000 to pay for a recruitment specialist to launch “Call Me MISTER,” a program intended to increase the pool of available male teachers from more-diverse backgrounds.  

Brabrand also is recommending that the School Board fund:

• $1.5 million for dropout prevention, including on-time-graduation coordinators at nine high schools.

• $1.4 million for more school counselors.

• $800,000 for per-pupil allocations at high schools, based on the number of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals, “to address student-activity-fund equity.”

The School Board will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget Jan. 27 and on the following two days, if needed. The board will adopt its advertised budget Feb. 6 and present it to county supervisors April 14.

The School Board will adopt its fiscal 2021 budget in May after supervisors approve the county’s new budget and the school system’s transfer. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D) said education “is and always will be” the board’s top priority.  

“I’m proud to have worked closely and collaboratively with Superintendent Brabrand and the School Board over the last couple of years to fully fund our world-class school system,” McKay said. “We have a new School Board and Board of Supervisors and I will continue to insist that collaboration continue.”

Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) said he was “not too surprised” by Brabrand’s budget proposal.

“They need it to supplement their focus on teacher compensation,” said Foust, adding, “We haven’t seen the numbers yet, so can’t make any commitments.”

But Arthur Purves, president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, said providing more money to public schools amounts to an “investment in racial inequality and in mediocrity for most students.”  

“There should be no budget increases until achievement is raised by replacing ‘whole-word’ reading instruction with phonics, bringing back arithmetic drill, and replacing atheistic social studies with unbiased history,” he said. “Low achievement is not the fault of the students; it is caused by a flawed curriculum, especially in early elementary school, a curriculum that unnecessarily stigmatizes children as ‘learning disabled.’”

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