FY 2017 (School Year 2016-17) Budget Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the key highlights of the FY 2017 (school year 2016-17) budget?

This year, we propose a FY 2017 budget that begins reinvesting in our schools and reverses the impact of the significant cuts that have been sustained since 2008. The FY 2017 Proposed Budget totals $2.7 billion and funds our basic and most pressing needs. Our two key priorities are focused on investment in the classroom:

  • Employee Compensation: A step increase for eligible employees, a 1.0% market scale adjustment for all employees and an additional $40 million investment in teacher salary scales, a first step in a multiyear strategy to invest in our workforce.
  • Elementary Class Size Reduction: $10 million to fund additional classroom teachers to reduce class sizes in every elementary classroom to below 30 students where classroom space is available.

To balance the budget, a 6.7 percent increase in funding from the County is requested. Recently, the increase in funding from the County has not covered FCPS’ basic budget drivers: salary increases, enrollment increases and student demographic changes, rising health care costs, and increases in state retirement costs.

Community support is critical to ensuring adequate funding for FCPS. Find out how you can help.

See the FY 2017 Budget Overview here.

2. Why is there a focus on improving teacher salaries?

Balancing the budget by limiting employee compensation has resulted in FCPS compensation for teachers significantly lagging behind regional school systems. At the 15th year, an FCPS teacher’s salary is about $8,500 below the regional market average and about $20,000 below an Arlington County teacher’s salary. FCPS opened the 2015-16 school year with 200 teacher vacancies, a significantly higher number than in the past.

Teachers are at the core of FCPS’ mission. As the largest employee group, they require the largest investment. In FY 2017, $40.0 million is being proposed as an initial investment to improve teacher salaries. Improving teacher compensation is also a key priority within the strategic plan.














3. What is FCPS doing to avoid cuts?

FCPS is proposing a $2.7 billion operating budget, which is a 4.8 percent increase over the FY 2016 Approved Budget. The majority of the increase represents a modest investment in our employees with a focus on improving teacher pay. In order to make these critical investments and balance the FCPS budget a 6.7 percent increase in funding from the County is being requested. This reasonable increase will allow us to invest in our teachers, support our students, and avoid cuts which no one wants.












4. How will you reduce elementary class sizes?

Elementary class size reduction is another key priority aligned with our Strategic Plan. Class size has risen three times in the past decade. Guidelines for elementary class size were implemented in FY 2016. The proposed budget includes an increase of more than $10 million to address the challenge by reducing every elementary class below 30, where classroom space is available.

5. What happens if the proposed increase in revenues does not occur?

If FCPS’ budget request is not fully funded, then FCPS will be required to make cuts that no one supports.

In 2015, the Fairfax County Public Schools Budget Task Force was convened by the Superintendent to address a potential budget shortfall for FY 2017. The Budget Task Force met several times over the summer and fall of 2015 to provide community input to the Superintendent with two scenarios of budget cuts: $50 million and $75 million. The Budget Task Force was made up of community members nominated by school board members, community groups, and employees of the school system.

The Superintendent asked the Budget Task Force to keep in mind six criteria when evaluating potential cuts:

1. Number of students impacted
2. Effect on employees and students
3. Disruption to the system
4. Permanent cuts instead of “one time” cuts
5. Magnitude of the cut
6. Student outcomes especially in core instruction

Even with these criteria in mind, the cuts identified by the Budget Task Force would negatively impact every student, teacher, parent, administrator, and staff member in the Fairfax County Public School System. This group spent many hours studying the facts, discussing the possibilities, and coming to consensus in an effort to produce their list of recommendations. It's important to note that the Task Force has made a recommendation. No one—including the Task Force members—wants to enact significant budget reductions that will impact classroom and student programs.

The budget process will continue over the months ahead. The budget calendar includes all of the key dates. The School Board will make the final decision on the proposed budget when it votes at its May 26, 2016, business meeting.

6. More than 50% of Fairfax County’s budget already goes to FCPS. Why isn’t that enough?

FCPS only receives 22 percent of its funding from the state (state aid and sales tax revenue).  This is significantly less than the 49.8 percent that the state provides on average to other Virginia school districts.  The school system must rely on the County to fund almost 73 percent of the budget.  Yet, over the past several years, the funding FCPS has received from the County has not covered its basic budget drivers: salary increases for employees, enrollment increases and demographic changes, rising health care costs, and required increases for retirement. 

The FY 2017 Proposed Budget includes a funding increase from the County of $122. 7 million, or 6.7 percent.  This is required in order to fund a budget that meets only FCPS’ most basic and pressing needs.  Funding is included for two key priorities – employee salaries and elementary class size reduction. The budget provides for modest salary increases for all employees, a step increase and 1 percent market scale adjustment. An additional $40 million is proposed as a first step to improve the teacher salaries so that FCPS can compete with surrounding school districts and attract and retain the best teachers.  Also, $10 million is required to reduce elementary class sizes to below 30 students where space is available.  If FCPS does not receive the level of revenue required to fund the proposed budget, it will be required to reduce school programs and services to students that are valued by our community.

7. Hasn’t the County increased the funding provided to FCPS?

The County transfer amount (the revenue received annually by FCPS from Fairfax) is not tied to the cost drivers affecting FCPS.  As a result, the increases in funding that the County has provided to FCPS have not kept pace with increasing expenditures including student enrollment, employee salary increases, rate changes in the Virginia Retirement System (VRS), and increases in health and life insurance benefits.

















While it is true that Fairfax County has increased the transfer to FCPS over the last decade, FCPS has had to cut nearly half-a-billion dollars from its operating budget since 2008 due to the major budget drivers noted above.

Significant needs still remain that are not funded. These include lowering class sizes; increasing the number of students served by early childhood education; student technology and connectivity; preventive and major maintenance; replacement equipment, buses, and vehicles; and funding needed to ensure FCPS has the capacity to confront emerging needs, issues, and opportunities to continue providing an excellent education to children in Fairfax County. The funding of these needs would require an additional increase in the transfer amount above what has been requested for FY 2017.

8. Is it true FCPS teachers haven't received a salary increase in seven years?

While FCPS has not been able to make the salary adjustments necessary to stay competitive and ensure FCPS retains top talent, the following salary adjustments have been made in the past few years:

FCPS Salary Increases



Step Increment














January 2014





Delayed by 2 months for teachers and instructional assistants and
4 months for all others




2017 Proposed



*MSA: Market Scale Adjustment; COLA: Cost of Living Adjustment

9. I am a county resident, but I don't have children. Why should I care about the budget?

Everyone who lives, works, or owns a business in Fairfax County has a stake in FCPS’ success. The school system is a critical factor in home values, Fairfax County’s brand value, and in recruiting business investment. Education provides the greatest return on county investments. Deferring investment in education will create problems for the entire county in the long-term.

10. Why are there so many students in my child’s classroom?

Class size challenges remain primarily a funding issue – more teachers equal smaller class sizes, resulting in additional annual funding requirements. Insufficient funding provided to FCPS by all levels of government has contributed to its present situation of too many students in temporary classrooms and others in overcrowded classrooms.

FCPS does not intentionally increase class sizes in one area of the county while lowering class sizes in others. FCPS' goal is to provide all students with individualized resources and services to help them reach their greatest potential.

FCPS has begun to address the issue of large class sizes, particularly in those communities that have chronically experienced crowded classrooms at the elementary level. This school year, for the first time, the school system has standards for elementary class sizes for core content instruction. In FY 2017, an additional $10 million is proposed to lower elementary class sizes to fewer than 30 students per teacher where classroom space is available. 

11. Has FCPS considered launching a ballot initiative for a special local assessment that would provide additional funding to the school system?

Based on the Code of Virginia, special assessments to support schools are not allowed. The code states, "To levy and collect an annual tax upon any property in such service district subject to local taxation to pay, either in whole or in part, the expenses and charges for providing the governmental services authorized by subdivisions 1, 2 and 11 and for constructing, maintaining, and operating such facilities and equipment as may be necessary and desirable in connection therewith; however, such annual tax shall not be levied for or used to pay for schools, police, or general government services not authorized by this section…"

Fairfax County operates under the urban county executive form of government, an optional form of Virginia county government, and like other Virginia local governments, Fairfax County has limited powers. This doctrine of limited authority for local governments is commonly called the Dillon Rule. The Dillon Rule is used in interpreting law when there is a question of whether or not a local government has a certain power. The Dillon Rule narrowly defines the power of local governments. It also states that if there is any reasonable doubt whether a power has been conferred on a local government, then the power has NOT been conferred. This means that Fairfax County has limited powers in areas such as raising revenue, and it cannot take certain actions without appropriate action from the state, which limits revenue diversification options among other things.

12. Does FCPS end each year with money that is unspent?

Each year state and local governments typically end the year with an available ending balance to ensure that they meet revenue projections and do not exceed expenditure appropriations. FCPS, like Fairfax County government, historically has ended every fiscal year with an available ending balance. This is a responsible budgeting practice since FCPS is required by law to have a balanced budget.

Available ending balances fluctuate year to year due to changing conditions and typically represent a small fraction of the overall budget. For example, when we have a mild winter, we have one-time savings in utilities accounts that are included in the available ending balance. Since these conditions fluctuate, it is most prudent to use those monies for one-time expenditures, rather than permanent increases. Because of our serious economic circumstances in recent years, FCPS has acted prudently and has used the available ending balance to meet upcoming fiscal years’ expenses. Each year FCPS revises budget assumptions based on the prior year’s actual expenditure trends.

13. How can I help?

Your support is critical to reversing the trend of underfunding and to begin investing in our great school system. Here is how you can help #SaveFCPS:

Learn the budget basics from Sam.


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Last Updated

March 8, 2016