Deficit-Plagued Fairfax County Public Schools Waste Taxpayer Money On Labor Union Business, Report Finds

At a time when the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) are experiencing a serious budget deficit, public school employees get paid by taxpayers to conduct labor union business in a policy known as “release time.” A new report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute uses data from a public records request to describe the nature and costs associated with the release time policy – such as $2 million per year spent on hiring substitutes while employees are away on union business.

“The Fairfax County school system is facing a massive budget shortfall of $72 million for the 2016-2017 school year,” said CEI policy analyst Trey Kovacs, author of A Remedy for Fairfax County’s Taxpayer Giveaway to Unions. “With a gaping budget deficit, policymakers should take a hard look at money spent on labor union business and redirect those dollars to the classroom.

“Unfortunately, the full cost of release time isn’t known, due to the lack of accurate recordkeeping,” Kovacs explained. “But Fairfax could cut more than a million dollars by eliminating labor union release time, without any impact on the classroom or student programs.”

A budget task force assembled by FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza to make recommendations on how to make cuts that impact the classroom as little as possible produced a report this month, but it didn’t even mention release time.

The report notes specific amounts of time and money spent on labor union release time in the form of excused absences and substitute teacher compensation. However, the cost of release time could be even higher, since the lack of release time record keeping makes the actual cost unknown.

  • FCPS needed substitutes for 132,529 hours while public employees conducted union activity on release time over a three-year period. The cost of hiring substitutes for FCPS employees on release time is estimated at $5.8 million over that three-year period (or about $2 million annually).
  • Ten labor unions each receive 240 hours per year to meet with the Board of Supervisors and attend committee meetings.
  • Preparing and assisting union members with a grievance is a permissible release time activity. There is no limit on how much release time a union may use for this purpose.
  • FCPS employees are permitted to attend union conventions or conferences on release time, with each union is allotted another 240 hours per year for this purpose.