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Louise Epstein, Chairman: School Board BudgetTestimony, May 15, 2012

May 16, 2012 by Louise Epstein

[FEC Chairman Louise Epstein provided this testimony to the School Board on May 15, 2012.]

Good evening. My name is Louise Epstein, and tonight I am speaking as the chair of the bipartisan Fairfax Education Coalition.

Our coalition advocates for improved transparency, public engagement and accountability and includes the Fairfax Education Association, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, FAIRGRADE, SLEEP, FairfaxCAPS, Fairfax County Association for the Gifted, Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform, Real Food For Kids and Restore Honors Courses. Our members also are active in The Coalition of The Silence, the FCCPTA and school PTAs.

First, thank you for starting your budget mark-up with the Advertised Budget you voted for, rather than the Superintendent’s revisions. As some of you noted during your budget work session, this improves transparency by clearly showing the changes from your Advertised Budget to the final FY 2013 budget.

We also want to thank you for making time to consider the public’s testimony, before you submit your proposed amendments to the budget. Next year, we hope that you will provide more time. In addition, you may want to look at the format of the MCPS budget documents as a model to improve transparency. That format also reduces the need for budget questions, which should help address Supervisor concerns.

This year, the crucial question is whether FCPS should phase in the VRS changes over 5 years or implement them in one year. Our research, although not comprehensive, suggests that most Virginia school districts are choosing to phase in the VRS changes gradually.

In light of what we have learned, we recommend that you phase in the VRS change by 1% in FY 2013.

This will give you more flexibility to fund other priorities. It also will give you time to obtain and carefully assess the arguments and data about the impact on how to best phase in the remaining VRS changes.

In evaluating the Superintendent’s suggestion that you immediately implement the full 5% VRS change, we also suggest you consider experts’ recommendations about how to avoid potential abuses of defined benefit pension plans. Actuaries counsel against large salary increases for employees nearing retirement since such increases, sometimes referred to as "spiking," put an additional strain on pension plans. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, anti-spiking policies ensure actuarial integrity and transparency.

Evaluating these and other relevant considerations would be a good project for School Board staff and/or for a truly Independent Auditor who reports to a truly independent Audit Committee. Accordingly, we urge you to include funding for School Board staff and an Independent Auditor in the FY 2013 Budget. Once they are hired, you can ask them for an independent analysis of budget issues before you have to vote on the FY 2014 Advertised Budget.

Thank you.

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