On March 23, Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity’s annual budget town hall meeting took place at the West Springfield Government Center. At the meeting, Herrity addressed citizens’ concerns and suggestions, and provided an overview of the FY 2017 advertised budget.
The top priority is Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), which takes up 52.2 percent of the proposed budget.
“Each year funding for schools keeps getting cut back at the state level,” said County Executive Edward Long. According to the report, since FY 2009, the State has reduced its share of funding for public education by more than $1 billion annually, and State funding on a per pupil inflation adjusted basis has decreased from $4,275 per pupil in 2009 to $3,655 per pupil in FY 2015. While Virginia is in the top 10 in both per capita and in median household income, it is in the bottom 10 for public education funding at the state level.
Amy Jordan, a Springfield resident and public defender, believes that funding for schools is crucial for keeping at-risk youth safe.
“Half of my clients are all juveniles,” she said. “The problem is they don’t do extracurriculars. If we don’t fund school programs, it causes more juvenile delinquency.”
Teachers raised concerns as well, particularly about how money is being handled. Healthcare and pensions were mentioned as two areas needing reform.
The March 17, 2016 Herrity Report stated that “In 2001, the school system (following the County’s lead) added a second pension plan which now costs $76 million per year and represents over five percent of total compensation. This significantly reduces the funding available for teacher salary increases. The second pension plan also encourages our experienced teachers to retire in their 50s and does little to attract the best and brightest of today’s young millennial teachers.”
But according to the Educational Employees’ Supplementary Retirement System of Fairfax County (ERFC), “Neither the ERFC 2001 plan nor the VRS hybrid plan for new hires encourages retirement for teachers in their 50s.” Furthermore, by 2001 the average retiree age in FCPS had increased beyond age 55, the average age of an FCPS retiree in FY 2015 was 62 with 22 years of service. A retirement system designed to facilitate early retirement no longer served teachers well, especially those who took off to raise a family, returned to the area or pursued additional education.
“It was disappointing to see the inaccuracy with retirement,” said Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax Education Association. “It’s too expensive to retire in Fairfax County. The pension issue is targeting those who are predominately female.”
Long’s biggest concern about the local economy is job loss due to federal cutbacks. An office vacancy rate of 17.2 percent was reported in the County. In mid-2015 that number was 16.5 percent. The local real estate market was only up by 2.1 percent in the Washington, D.C. metro area, but prices were up by 5.8 percent nationally through November 2015.
There will be public hearings on the FY 2017 Budget on April 5, 6 and 7. The entire FY 2017 advertised budget plan and the FY 2017-FY 2021 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) can also be viewed online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/budget.