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Where your taxpayer money is going in the SCPS 2018 budget

SCPS and the School Board presented their budget request to the BoS on Tuesday. Money issues have been a bit of a sticky-wicket for the last few years but Superintendent Dr. Benson has gotten some high praise from the SB and the BoS for this year's budget. Specifically, the entire budgeting process was overhauled last year and SPCS has switched to a zero based budget. This means no more sneaky, back-door reallocation of extra funds and no more appearances of millions of dollars from out of nowhere. Even if you have issues with where the money in the proposed budget is going, the fact that every dollar is being accounted for is fantastic.

Numbers can be boring or overwhelming and people have a tendency to tune out when presented with too many at once. The actual SB approved budget package is 172 pages long! But understanding where the money is going is important, it is coming from us taxpayers, after all. Let's discuss the highlights of where your taxpayer dollars will be going in school year 2017-18, specifically the justification for an increase.

Above you see the specific amount of money requested by SCPS. The most important takeaway here is the last bit, the almost $5.9 million dollar shortfall. This means some items in the budget may get left by the wayside if creative solutions can't be found. Also notable is the projected increase in students attending SCPS next year at 700.

What exactly will the increase be paying for? According to Chairwoman Hazard, 83.5% of the extra funds will be targeted towards human capital investment. One of the biggest priorities of this budget is getting our "out of market" employees into a more competitive salary range. The market for comparison that SCPS is using refers to the list of counties in the graph below, which analyzes base teacher compensation rates.

Notably absent are our neighbors to the north such as Fairfax, Alexandria, etc. We'll get to the reason for that in a moment. Looking at the chart, you will see Stafford represented by a blue diamond. Stafford is well outside the median range for our least experienced teachers, years 1-9. This year's budget will give an extra boost to these pay grades to start to bring them closer to the median. According to Dr. Benson, there is 250K in the budget to go towards this adjustment this year but it would take 750k more, or about 1 million total, to get just those teachers only to the median of the range in the graph above.

So why aren't Fairfax or other NOVA counties included and what about Loudon and Prince William? Why are their compensation rates so much higher than ours across the board? This is due to something called "cost to compete" and it really puts us at a disadvantage here in Stafford. Look for more in depth analysis of this and how it may be affecting Stafford's relatively high teacher turnover rate in another post. For now, all you need to know is that counties in Northern Virginia get extra money from the state, expressly for teacher salaries, so as to be competitive with the DC and Maryland markets. Stafford does get a portion of this money but only 25% of what counties to the north of us get. You can see how this would put us at a disadvantage.

Dr Benson is quick to point out that pay alone does not encompass the whole package that we offer to employees and he gave us an example in his presentation:

Here we see on the left that a teacher with a master's degree (of which we have 1100 in our system) gets a $4380 supplement to their pay. Along with other benefits like health care and VRS (Virginia Retirement System) contribution, the total paid out by SCPS is a little over 75K.

The spreadsheet on the right shows how much might be spent on a bus driver. Bus driver turnover rates are exceptionally bad in Stafford and SCPS has been operating the department understaffed all year. Dr. Benson says we are currently around 20 drivers short and the reason for this is pretty clear: we do not pay our least experienced bus drivers well at all.

Only Albermarle pays less to it's bus drivers in this experience range. Dr. Benson has instituted a new, 3 tiered pay band scale for these workers, which will allow drivers to get a good pay increase after only their first year. He has also instituted an incentive program that rewards drivers who show up to work by giving them a 10 dollar bonus for every day they come in, which he reports is having a positive effect on absenteeism rates. Hopefully, these provisions will allow SCPS to hire and retain more bus drivers next year.

The other main components of the increase go towards raises for teachers and staff, 1% for teachers (who already got an extra percent this year due to an error when the pay scale was published) and 2% for all other employees. Also, due to mandated increases by the state, SCPS has to contribute much more to the VRS (Virginia Retirement System) this year, around 900K more than last year. Paraprofessionals and nurses will also see an"out of market" boost to their pay rates and finally, about 67 new employees will be hired, 35 of which will be teachers.

It's hard to argue with raising the salaries of the "out of market" employees, paras have been paid abysmally for years. I personally think that Dr. Benson is taking the right approach in addressing this issue in a measured, reasonable manner. The only concern is our veteran teachers, who likely also feel they are underpaid. They may not appreciate being left out of these adjustments and decide it's time to take their teaching expertise elsewhere.