Nearly 50 people turned out to Fauquier High School Tuesday night for a public hearing on the 2024 budget. Several approached the podium with speeches in hand to ask the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors to approve funding requests for the county school division and fire and rescue department.
“I am retired, living in Warrenton. I have no children in the school system. But I am a taxpayer and I request that the board of supervisors approve the school budget proposal,” said Paula Patrick, a resident of Center District.
The county’s proposed fiscal year 2024 budget would direct $177 million to Fauquier County public schools. Much of the budget goes toward the school divisions operating fund totaling $165 million. That’s a 4% increase from the amount the supervisors set aside for schools in the two-year budget they approved last year.
But Fauquier County schools Superintendent David Jeck is asking the supervisors for an additional $4.1 million for next school year to provide 5% raises for all teachers and staff. That request was not included in the proposed budget Fauquier County Administator Paul McCulla presented to the supervisors last month.
Fauquier County lags behind several surrounding counties in teacher pay. In Fauquier, the starting salary for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $47,920. In Prince William County, it is $53,570; while in Stafford County it is $49,000 and in Loudoun County, $55,889.
“I am an unlikely advocate for public education. Personally, I only ever attended Catholic schools,” said Katie Lang, founding member of Fauquier United to Support Education. “Local public schools matter ... adequate budgets matter. The people I love the most live in Fauquier. ... I’m willing to pay more taxes if that’s what it takes to fully fund our schools.”
Some Fauquier professional firefighters spoke in favor of the 2-cent increase in the fire and rescue real estate tax rate, also called the fire levy, that McCulla proposed to add 24 full-time positions to fill staffing gaps at county fire stations.
“It’s pretty indescribable when you’re on scene and you’re waiting for a fire truck,” said Michael Shea, a Fauquier firefighter. “You show up in an ambulance; somebody’s stuck in the car; and you’re waiting for a fire truck. You can’t do anything for them. I want to convey how important it is that we get this money for our (full-time positions) so we don’t have to do that as much anymore.”
County firefighters are also asking the board to approve a 3% cost-of-living adjustment and a “step increase” to help Fauquier public safety agencies stay competitive for hiring and to increase salaries for those already employed. A step increase allows employees to move up on the pay scale as they add seniority.
The 3% cost-of-living increase would boost the pay scale across the board, helping to avoid pay compression.
The current starting salary for a first-year fire and rescue technician I in Fauquier County is $51,000. In Loudoun County it is $57,762, and in Fairfax County it is $59,711.
“These requests, I understand they come with the burden of funding,” said Kenneth Neam, president of the Fauquier County firefighters’ union, the International Association of Firefighters Local 3762.
“But as a taxpayer in this county, I also get the sacrifices that need to be made to live knowing (that) when a county resident, my family or I, were to call 911, they will get appropriate resources in a timely manner.”
Fauquier County's average real estate tax bills would rise by $92 next year under the $422.3 million budget McCulla released Feb. 24.
Supervisors will meet again on Thursday, March 23 at 4 p.m. in the Warren Green Building for a budget work session.
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