Early Ed, Achievement Gap Issues Dominate Budget Work Session
Restoring full day elementary on Mondays also discussed as Fairfax County School Board stares down Feb. 7 budget vote.
Amendments to Fairfax Superintendent Jack Dale's $2.5 billion proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget could direct more money toward head start and early learning programs, along with those that tackle the county's achievement gap, school board members said Thursday at a work session on the spending plan.
Though board members are still in the process of drafting amendments to the budget, some gave a glimpse of what they hope to adjust next week before the plan is adopted and sent to the Board of Supervisors.
On Tuesday, a dozen speakers addressed the board with their own concerns about the proposal: that it doesn't adequately address teacher compensation, time or workload issues, a living wage for other employees like bus drivers, food service workers and custodians, or later school start times, among other issues.
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The board is asking for a 5.5 percent increase — or $92.4 million — in funding from the supervisors for a total transfer of $1.77 billion
In a joint meeting between the groups in November, County Executive Ed Long included a 5 percent transfer increase — $84.2 million — in his fiscal forecast.
The difference, a half a percent, amounts to $8.2 million dollars, Chief Financial Officer Susan Quinn said Thursday.
It's a less dramatic gap to bridge than in some past budget years — part of the reason some board members said they were hesitant to add to that request in their amendments.
Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill) said she was crafting an amendment to eliminate a $6.5 million line item for extended teacher time, and put it instead toward expanding the Family and Early Childhood Education Program (FECEP)/Head Start, a free pre-k child development program for "income-eligible" three through five-year-olds, including those with disabilities.
About 1,000 children across the county are currently on the waitlist for the program; Hynes' amendment would allow 600 of them into the program beginning in Fall 2013.
That number could fluctuate depend on what kind of capital costs an expansion might require. Operating expenses per FECEP child total $16,000. If significant capital improvements were needed to expand the program, Hynes said, she would ask the county to pick up the additional cost.
Janie Strauss (Dranesville) said she "doesn't think the Board of Supervisors would pay for any of this," suggesting the school board find a better way to fund it, or, perhaps focus on a smaller expansion.
Other members wondered what went into the $16,000-per-child price tag, and if there was a less expensive way to accomplish the program's goals.
Dan Storck (Mount Vernon) said he planned to add two amendments: one to fund a full-time equivalent of an advanced academic resource teacher at all Title I schools, and other schools with populations — English as a Second Language, free and reduced meals, African-American and Hispanic — underrepresented in advanced academic offerings.
He also wants to create an extended advanced academic learning program for young scholars at Title I schools, for students in those populations along with twice-exceptional students.
"The objective here is … to make sure we’re putting where our mouth has been, which is to try to change that dynamic and change the pipeline," he said, noting the complaint filed against FCPS with the NAACP.
Storck's amendments touched on an area of the budget that could be hit particularly hard in the event of federal sequestration.
Quinn said if the Department of Education is required to take cuts, Fairfax County could see up to $6 million in cuts from IDEA and Title I grants to the school system.
Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) said while the board has been "very sensitive" to the achievement numbers for minority students, "the achievement gap that's the worst persistently is [for] students with disabilities."
She said she plans to introduce an amendment that would restore full day Mondays at the elementary level, noting "the thing that students with disabilities need is more time."
"I think it is time that we look at that very seriously and provide some additional resources," she said.
Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) said such a plan would require close coordination with teachers, who have spoken about feeling stretched and overloaded even with the Monday half-day, which is dedicated largely to planning.
Fairfax Education Association President Michael Hairston called the extra time "sacred."
Without it, he wondered, "When will teachers plan?"
"Teachers must be engaged in any discussion before making changes," he said.
The board will consider amendments and vote on the proposed budget next Thursday.