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Board Moves Schools Budget Forward

In 7-5 vote, some members say request to supervisors reflects need, others say it's unrealistic

The Fairfax County School Board voted to approve a $2.4 billion fiscal year 2013 advertised budget at its meeting Thursday, forwarding a plan to supervisors that asks for $202.3 million more than last fiscal year

The budget asks the supervisors for a transfer increase of $135.4 million, While some board members said the strategy allowed them to be upfront about the school system's priorities and needs, others called the approach backward and disrespectful of what supervisors

"This is an incremental budget. That’s one approach. I would advocate for a zero-based budget. Lets start from the bottom up, what's in the classroom and what's needed to support the classroom? This is a fundamentally different strategy and approach," said Patty Reed (Providence), who said she agreed with several of the amendments made to the budget but could not support it as a whole. "This is not a dance, this is not a game. This is about doing good business with our county’s dollars and with our partners on the Board of Supervisors."

"To my mind the tactic of asking high for fear of leaving money on the table has not had much success," added Ted Velkoff (At-large), who also voted against the budget, recalling flat transfers in the last several years. "By approving this budget I believe we fall short of our responsibility to govern. We neither offer expenditure reductions nor explain how expenditure increases would ultimately be funded. We risk raising false hopes among some stakeholders and leave the hard choices to the appropriating body ... I believe we may have a trust gap with the Board of Supervisors and arguably with the public."

After hearing five members speak against the budget proposal, Budget Chair Ilryong Moon (At-large) said he had not seen any meaningful discussion or motions addressing a reduction to the transfer before Thursday night, and without an amendment to work with "there's nothing to discuss."

"There hasn't been anything to let me see what they're really thinking — how will you reduce the budget?" Moon said. "Talk is cheap. Everyone talks about fairly compensating employees but where will it come from?"

Dan Storck (Mount Vernon) spoke in support of the budget proposal, saying it is important for the school board to convey its priorities to both the public and the Board of Supervisors.

"Part of the transparency issue is that we need to make sure people understand things we don’t feel were adequately addressed in the superintendent's budget or even things that are in here that we want to highlight because we think it's important for the community to understand," Storck said.

The board added eight amendments to , which focused largely on increasing teacher compensation, better managing teacher workload and reducing classroom sizes.

covered a range of goals and priorities, from finding $600,000 to create ombudsman and auditor positions and adding school board support staff to eliminating athletic fees — a cost of $1.7 million — and funding an estimated $200,000 consultant study of ways to make FCPS school food healthier.

Other amendments included:

  • Requiring an evaluation and teacher survey of the eCART system before the system's previously planned expansion of the program
  • Adding 20 field custodian positions at a cost of $1 million
  • Providing $0.1 million to revise and reproduce the Parent Advocacy Handbook 
  • Providing funding of $19,590 to record (audio and video) all school board work sessions of the full board, including forums
  • Providing funding of $0.1 million for a best practices study to increase early literacy skills and kindergarten readiness for all children

Together, the amendments did not increase the transfer request to the supervisors, board members said. For a look at full amendment language and funding source information,

A motion by Kathy Smith (Sully) to vote on each amendment separately failed, which she said was a transparency issue and unfair to taxpayers who have not heard full discussions from board members on their positions.

"We’re telling the superintendent to cut [what we need for these amendments] and can we really sit here and say we think he can find a way to do it that’s not going to affect student achievement and support to schools?" Smith said. "I will not make that decision now because it’s not an informed decision. A lot of people say this doesn’t really matter right now, we’re going to have to make cuts, we're putting out markers about what we believe in, but what this board member believes in is putting support in our teachers and supporting our students and not expanding things we can do ... We have to be careful about what markers we put out and what we don't."

The board has a joint retreat with the supervisors at 10 a.m. Feb. 25, three days before County Executive Anthony Griffith unveils the county's fiscal year 2013 budget.

There will be "many more discussions" among school board members and between the two governing bodies before the county votes on its budget and schools transfer May 1, and the school board finalizes a budget of its own May 24, board chair Janie Strauss (Dranesville) said.

Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said members who voted against the budget "care just as deeply" about their teachers, schools and children; their position didn't indicate a lack of support of the system's needs, he said.

"Sometimes politics is not a perfect science," Greenburg said. "The budget that went through addresses the true needs of the school system, but there was a real voicing of being fiscally responsible and working with the supervisors and I think that's good politics in the long term."

"It's a part of making that relationship better," said Fairfax Education Association President Michael Hairston. "That's the start."

Kathy Keith February 14, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Mr. Tribbett, If more money equalled better schools, I think most people would be in favor. Before we add more money, how about we give better stewardship of the money we have. No where is this more evident than in the Education Department in our federal government. The funding increases over the last decades have not resulted in better schools.
Rob Jackson February 14, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Will and Louise, my proposal is to force FCPS to stop over-stating the costs of mandates. There are mandates that have costs, but it's been my experience with FCPS budgets that the Division will decide to staff beyond what the mandates require, while still blaming the mandates. That's not good budgeting or good public policy. Let's turn to assistant principals. If the SOQs require one assistant principal for each 600 students, that is the mandate. FCPS should calculate the base budget as one AP for every 600 students. Now if the Administration or the School Board wants to go beyond that, it should state the additional costs and set forth the benefits expected to be derived from the additional staffing. The we can debate this issue. There are some areas in the SOQs that are fuzzy, but even the Special Education mandates have instructor-aide-student ratios specified. FCPS does not want the public to know what is required; what is additional; and the costs and benefits for going beyond what is required. My proposal would also expose potential inequities among students. Do the kids in the middle get the least? I think most people would support providing more than the bare minimum, but it is simply dishonest to attempt to mislead the public on the true costs of mandates. We need an Administration and School Board that will explain the costs and benefits of doing more.
Sheree Brown-Kaplan February 28, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Ben, Did you know that FCPS carries over tens of millions of dollars every year? Did you also know that these are unencumbered funds? I've been advocating for some of our most academically at-risk students for years, and despite the millions spent by FCPS, there continues to be a significant achievement gap. For example, last year approximately 1/4 of Black, Hispanic, disadvantaged students and students with disabilities FAILED the critical 3rd grade reading SOL. Over time I've discovered that the achievement gap isn't so much a matter of how much money FCPS is spending, but IS a function of the management that funding. FCPS desperately needs an audit of its programs and services to determine effectiveness. If something isn't working or doesn't have peer-reviewed research to prove its effectiveness, why would we be spending money on it? It's not just wasting taxpayer dollars; it's hurting our most at-risk kids and condemning them to uncertain futures.
Daniel Hale April 19, 2012 at 10:55 PM
So if the SB approved an additional request of 8.4%, why last week did the chair speak of only a 5% increase? If employee compensation is such a priority, then what happened? Now the best employees can hope for is .5% and no step!?
Jody April 20, 2012 at 05:10 PM
I agree. There should be more focus on reading and writing since that is the foundation that enables a child to learn any other subject. What happens to kids who fail that SOL? Do they just move on or do they get more intensive classes in English? That's why we need to get rid of the ridiculous high-stakes testing, All kids won't be able to move along at the same level and shouldn't be forced to.

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