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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."

Mary Porter, CHC February 10, 2012 at 01:10 PM
As a clarification, the amendment to fund for a consultant study to improve school food in Fairfax County will be redirected from the Food and Nutrition Services budget which is not funded by FCPS.
Jon Burks February 10, 2012 at 03:04 PM
I fail to understand why the School Board is pressing to eliminate extracurricular athletic fees and not also looking at the extracurricular and co-curricular fees charged to kids in the system's music programs. My kids pay $100 to participate in a sport, but HUNDREDS of dollars to participate in band, and most of those fees (classroom, marching band) are a requirement to participate in the class. I know what those band fees go toward, and I know the band program isn't even collecting enough money to cover what they are spending (thank goodness for fundraising), but it's a matter of fairness that purely optional athletic fees are being eliminated and mandatory music fees aren't being addressed at all.
Ryan McElveen February 10, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Hi Jon, Thanks for highlighing this issue. It was brought up by community members at our budget dialogues in late January, as well. We are are aware of the issue, and there is interest among board members in asking for a systemwide survey of all the fees charged for both curricular and extra-curricular activities. As we move forward, we will hopefully find ways to address any inequities.
Pat Hynes February 10, 2012 at 04:45 PM
I want to thank Erica Hendry and The Patch for excellent, timely coverage of our budget discussions. I hope readers will continue to follow the schools budget as the Board of Supervisors makes its deliberations, and let both boards know your priorities. The Board of Supervisors provides roughly 72% of the FCPS operating budget. Public hearings on the county budget, which includes the transfer to the schools, will be held in April. To learn more and sign up to speak: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dmb/county_budget_calendar.htm Pat Hynes FCPS School Board Member from the Hunter Mill District
Louise Epstein February 10, 2012 at 04:52 PM
There also are fees or expenses associated with participating in academic clubs or teams, like It's Academic (quiz bowl), debate, Model UN, Math Team, and more. Some of these academic programs are almost free, though, and FCPS high schools still aren't participating. For example, it costs only $75 per high school for an unlimited number of students to participate in the USA Biology Olympiad, but the few neighborhood high schools that participated in past years didn't register this year.
Kathy Keith February 10, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Athletic teams also have lots of additional fees--just as the music programs. They also have fundraising events. Uniforms, equipment, etc. can be pricey--especially in boys' sports. It is far from limited to the $100 athletic fee. I would suspect that the major reason the music organizations is so expensive is because of the trips the groups take.
Jon Burks February 10, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Kathy, I don't dispute that there are other costs associated with high school athletics, but we're talking orders of magnitude difference between sports and band. The music department trips are often very expensive, but they are charged separately from the other fees, and trip attendance is not required to participate in the class. Uniform and equipment replacement costs for the band in particular can be quite onerous, when one instrument can cost thousands of dollars to purchase, and you are looking at outfitting marching bands with well over 100 members.
Jody February 11, 2012 at 12:09 AM
"Nearly half of the student growth has been for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) learners; about a third also receive free or reduced-price meals. ...... Dale said." We need to enact tough illegal alien legislation like Prince William County so that we don't become a preferred location. Also, a million dollars to revise a handbook! Come on.
Jody February 11, 2012 at 04:42 AM
Ooops, I read the .1 million as 1 million. That sounds reasonable.
elizabeth February 11, 2012 at 02:18 PM
That is a BOS issue Ms, Bennet, not an FCPS issue.
jody bennett February 12, 2012 at 06:20 PM
This is Jody Bennett.....I would like to post that the comment made by Jody on February 10 was not made by me. I am using this to advise Elizabeth that I did not make the statement. Thanks.
Sheree Brown-Kaplan February 13, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Ted Velkoff made some very salient comments regarding the budget proposed to the BOS. Yes, this budget does contain some wonderful things, but the request isn't realistic and it puts the burden on the BOS to take the heat for saying "NO." As Ted points out, this creates a trust issue between the school board, the public and the BOS. Instead of "raising false hopes," as Ted stated, the school board should hold the superintendent accountable for presenting a budget that is not "want-based" but truly "needs-based" within the perimeters set by the BOS. Let's hope some real accountability measures are taken prior to the presentation of next year's budget to ensure that will happen. Patty Reed's zero-based budget proposal is an effective way to get us there. This kind of budgeting does not need to be done yearly, but at this point in time and with all the questions the public has about how taxpayer dollars are being spent, it would be a wise course of action.
Jody February 13, 2012 at 05:28 PM
My name isn't Bennett. I'm aware that my comment wasn't directly related to the budget discussion and that the BOS would be the ones to initiate that legislation, I just wanted to express my politically incorrect opinion. I also believe that FCPS and county employees are overpaid especially when it comes to benefits and pensions. That's the place to cut.
Rob Jackson February 13, 2012 at 09:18 PM
I've advocated FCPS create a baseline budget annually that shows the exact costs for meeting federal and state requirements -- not a dime more or a dime less. If the limit is 26 children in a 3rd grade class, tell us what that costs. Then the superintendent can propose what he/she would like to fund, say no more than 22 children in a 3rd grade class; what the additional costs would be; and what the benefits would be. This should apply to each and every program, be it general education, ESOL, programs for gifted children, special education, etc. Good people will still differ on the budget, but they would be disagreeing on facts and stated assumptions and not pure emotion. Too often the school budget debate involves meaningless statements, such as "schools are too expensive" or "it's for the children." How about this new school board members?
Will Radle February 13, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Rob, I support your proposal of showing the financial costs of federal and state mandate and recommend also showing the amount of funding from both. The majority of our K-12 education funding is developed locally. State and local politicians like to set rules, but consistently fail to make the investment. To see a plan increasing federal investment in FCPS by $324 million please check out our website at www.VA8.com. Thank you. A. Will Radle, Jr. www.VA8.com
Louise Epstein February 14, 2012 at 02:05 AM
Rob, your suggestion is sound but will require some judgment to be implemented properly. Some federal and state requirements are fuzzy, such as those involving special education or "support" staff. But in other areas, federal or state rules are clear. For example, Virginia's Standards of Quality basically require one assistant principal for every 600 students. FCPS decided to create many additional assistant principal positions, which costs millions of extra dollars every year.
Kathy Keith February 14, 2012 at 02:54 AM
I've never understood why FCPS added so many Assistant Principals. In some school systems, the smaller schools do not have AP's. Usually in those cases, if the principal is out of the building a counselor or a senior teacher is designated as the "Assistant Principal" in case of an emergency. I have been told that FCPS added AP's because of 9/11, but there are certainly other options in the smaller schools. Bottom line: is it good value for the money? Maybe, maybe not. What stuns me more is the projection for 2013 of 3979 new students with the requirement of 662 professional positions (teachers, IA's, asst. principals) which translates to 6 students per. Add in the additional office staff projected and the custodians and you get an even smaller ratio. Where is the common sense here? Money is tight. How many of these projected teachers will really work with kids and how many will become "staff"?
Benjamin Tribbett February 14, 2012 at 03:05 AM
Sorry but this article fails journalism 101. If the vote was 7-5, list the 12 members and how they voted.
Erica R. Hendry February 14, 2012 at 04:23 AM
Hi Benjamin, we list the vote in this "breakout" sidebar article here: http://vienna.patch.com/articles/by-the-numbers-fcps-fy-2013-budget-amendments Copy and pasted from that article: Approve: Evans (Mason) Derenak Kaufax (Lee), Hynes (Hunter Mill), McElveen (At-large), Moon (At-large), Storck (Mt. Vernon), Strauss (Dranesville) Oppose: McLaughlin (Braddock), Reed (Providence), Schultz (Springfield), Smith (Sully), Velkoff (At-large) Thanks for reading, Erica
Benjamin Tribbett February 14, 2012 at 04:34 AM
Thanks Erica. It's good to know which "Democrats" don't support the large scale increases in school funding that are needed after the recent years of austerity. The School Board should be even bolder, and propose a budget plan that would actually meet its needs (for example wiping out the backlog in school renovation needs in the next ten years). Let the Board of Supervisors deal with the reality of the schools they have underfunded for too long.
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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