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Fairfax Schools Face Nearly $150M Deficit in 2014

Board members explore new budget strategies, prepare for season at work session Monday

Fairfax County Public Schools will face a projected $147.9 million deficit in fiscal year 2014 — a gap that would require an 8.8 percent increase in the annual transfer it receives from the county.

That amount does not include $90.8 million in identified program needs, such as restoring class size reductions, extended teacher contracts and textbooks — in all, the system would need $238.7 million to meet projected costs.

The county's school board got an early look at the structural gap it faces over the next five years during a fiscal forecast presented during Monday's work session, created largely by the board's use of one-time money to meet ongoing needs, said FCPS Chief Financial Officer Susan Quinn, who gave the presentation, noting the numbers discussed were only projections and not final figures nor recommendations.

"It's clear we need to change the way we do business here ... and also the way we educate students," said board member Patty Reed (Providence) as members began to piece together a budget strategy they hope brings more efficiencies, savings and community buy-in than in years past.

To cover the $147.9 million deficit, aside from program needs, Fairfax County would have to increase its transfer to the school system by 8.8 percent — around the amount board members In fiscal year 2013, the Board of Supervisors ; school board members said Monday they did not think an increase twice that size was realistic.

"This isn't just our challenge, this is the whole school system and community's challenge," Reed said.

The system's revenues have failed to cover all of its expenditures over the past several years, Quinn said. That, combined with federal and state uncertainty in a number of areas — among them, how the state will adjust the state Local Composite Index (LCI), Virginia's school funding formula; when and if state per-pupil funding will rise to pre-recession levels; and the impact of federal sequestration — has created a structural deficit for the system.

Beyond those issues, the system is staring down a student enrollment that will increase by 2,250 next year — hitting a total of 193,000 students by 2017 — and must finish phasing in mandated shifts in Virginia Retirement System contributions, which will cost at least $10.8 million.

For all expected revenues, expenditures, compensation and program needs, click on the PDF of the report in the window to the right of this story.

Board member Janie Strauss (Dranesville) said officials were "in a deeper hole than we've been," worse than the last major recession the board faced in the early 1990s, from which it took seven or eight years to recover.

After that period, the system saw a period of financial growth while enjoying fairly flat student enrollment. But this time, Strauss said, student enrollment growth is at unprecedented highs, and there's no telling where the county economy is going to go.

"[I keep asking], how long does it take for the Fairfax local economy to go one way or another and nobody can answer that question, so it becomes just an incredible poker game as to what we can predict is going to happen for this 2014 budget," said Strauss, who noted many elements would remain unclear until after November's elections. "It's wise for us to presume flat funding from everyone because we don't know were it's going to go ... we have to be extremely careful when we plan this budget."

Superintendent Jack Dale said he has asked each of his departments to identify the consequences of a 5 percent non-school based reduction; he'll also be meeting with leaders at the elementary, middle and high school levels over the next two weeks to identify other efficiencies and savings.

The system is working with the state on an efficiency audit, which studies management of non-school based departmental efficiencies. Dale said those results will not be available until sometime next spring.

Other suggestions from board members included:

  • Reopening the fiscal year 2013 budget to hone in on wants versus needs
  • Studying the impact hiring and travel freezes would have on costs
  • Revisiting the system's school staffing ratio
  • Looking more closely at wants versus needs, specifically in the areas of consultants, travel and technology

"We have to incorporate into our vernacular the phrase 'savings,' and it doesn’t mean that we're cutting education, it doesn't mean we're doing things badly, it means that we're establishing priorities," Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) said. "And I beseech my fellow board members to start adopting now the mindset that there's ways we can do things more efficiently, and it isn't to the detriment of our students or the detriment of our system but it's just that it can be done better because the forecast demands it. We don't have the luxury to say we're not going into the line items anymore."

Dan Storck (Mt. Vernon) said the board needed to better engage the community during the coming year's budget session: Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill) noted the parent community can sometimes come to Board of Supervisor budget hearings with a divided message about whether schools need funding, and where they need it.

"Changing the conversation ... that is our responsibility and nobody else's," Storck said. "We have to go out there and explain and educate."

Staff is preparing a program budget, which will be available to the board in mid-October. Board members also asked to develop better budget engagement and budget prioritization strategies.

The board will meet with the county board of supervisors in November.

T-Bird September 11, 2012 at 09:00 PM
Vincent, just to clarify, they are not asking you to approve the project. They don't care if you "approve" or not. They are simply sending a notification of intent, which is required by law. Otherwise, it is doubtful you would get any notice at all.
janet otersen September 11, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Look no further than the detailed department budget if you want to see the LARGE salary increases during the worst recession since The Great Depression btw: Office of Communications--who even knows what they do?? In FY 2008 they had 11 employees earning a total of $626k ($63K each avg) In FY 2012 they had 10 employees earning a total of $918k ($91k avg) I L-O-V-E it when Dale and certain SB members brag about how they have reduced headcount at Gatehouse...the above is a perfect example. So, they cut one position-but gave everyone 50% raises!!!! The end to these fiscal shenanigans has to be near.
Amelie Krikorian September 11, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Who is getting a pay raise? As far as I know teachers finally got a small cost of living adjustment after three years of not getting anything at all. Personally I have spent over $2000 out of my own pocket getting my classroom ready for my students and I can only put $250 of that on my tax returns as a business expense. Spending money like a drunken sailor? Tell me where, so I can go work there! Your grammar and spelling indicate that you are clearly both literate and well-informed... NOT.
Amelie Krikorian September 11, 2012 at 11:20 PM
T-Bird, that increase is mainly because of huge increases in student enrollment and aging infrastructure that had not been repaired/replaced in far too long.
Michael September 11, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Actually, T-Bird, it's the conservatives who usually demand that school increases be limited to enrollment + inflation. That's even the law in some states, at conservative insistence. 2% doesn't begin to cover what was saved - because state and federal mandates have increased without adequate funding, there actually was a lot more saved than that. The percentage of ESOL and Special Ed. students has increased - and whatever you think about immigration, or Special Ed. diagnosis, the Supreme Court has ruled on these things and FCPS is not at liberty to ignore them. Your 700 million number is suspect too -- the FCPS 2007 budget had a general fund transfer of 1.525 billion. FY 2012 the transfer was 1.611 billion. This is 86 million, not the 700 million you claim - if it was that big, the general fund transfer would have been 2.2 billion - which is the size of the TOTAL budget, NOT the size of Fairfax County's fund transfer. Maybe you got your numbers confused, but what you have typed is simply not true. In any case my point isn't whether the depth of cuts is "commendable." My point is that spending per pupil has actually shrank in real terms, in spite of what lesser-informed people claim.
T-Bird September 12, 2012 at 12:08 AM
Amelie, griping about your tax deductions and criticizing spelling and grammar is all you have? Really? Your childish ad hominem insults represent the schools well. Thanks for proving my point.
MJSouth September 12, 2012 at 12:13 AM
There is nothing more important than having a first rate educational system. Without it, economic development will grind to a halt. Be efficient, but this is job one!!
Kathy Keith September 12, 2012 at 12:33 AM
I agree that a first rate educational system is most important. However, more money does not equate to a first rate system--you need look no further than DC to see that--or Chicago. Fairfax County is undergoing a dramatic change in demographics. Economics is taking its toll as is the influx of immigrants who cannot speak English. Part of the problem is that some of these students have not even been in school in their home country--so not only are they not fluent in English, a newly enrolled 6th grader may not even be able to read in his native language. The problem as I see it is the lack of leadership and appropriate decision making at the top of the pyramid--starting with Jack Dale. Until last year, our school board has rubber stamped everything his staff proposed or asked for. The board is a little better now, but his supporters are still there and, unfortunately, still seem to have control. They have not made the adjustment to the rising enrollment. Gatehouse seems to be useless and top heavy--more concerned with issuing paperwork requirements to teachers and making regulations that are not effective in the classroom. Starting at the top, we need better leaders and administrators in this system--this will lead to better teachers and better educated students. FCPS must get rid of some of its "nice to have" programs like FLES and make common sense decisions about the schools. Are "instructional coaches" effective? Maybe they need to go. ETC.
T-Bird September 12, 2012 at 01:19 AM
Michael, are you cracked or do you think we're that stupid we would take your numbers at face value? I hate to break it to you, but the real fund transfer in 2007, INCLUDING DEBT SERVICES, was $1.7 Billion. By your own documentation, your enrollment has increased 15,000 students since 2008. That is 8% of the total enrollment. Yet your budget just this year increased 8%. Your transfer this year was $1.7 before debt services. You do realize that the transfer increase in 1 year was more than $80 million, right? I see you've been schooled in the Jack Dale shell game. Omit this, forget to mention that. Over-inflate your enrollment estimates. Nice job. And by the way, I never mentioned anything about immigrants or special ed. There are always new laws. Don't you think there have been new laws/regulations pertaining to other county agencies? Transportation? Police? Public Works? Well there most certainly have, and yet somehow these agencies have been able to find cost savings and slash their budgets. Schools seem to think they are somehow above everyone else. Tell me, why is that? Why would you ask for an 8% transfer increase in the middle of the worst recession in 80 years? Why would you choose to eliminate sports fees when your priority should be cost savings? It's petty. And as for your "real terms" your $300 per student compared to a $2,400,000,000 budget, is not very realistic.
T-Bird September 12, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Tell me Michael, what happened to the $260 million carryover from last year? Why is there even such a large carryover? Do you think nobody notices when you say you need more money because of an anticipated cut in state funding, and then the cut never happens? Why have all of the county contractors been busy all summer completing all sorts of projects for the schools? Contractors the schools don't even normally bother with have been working 6 days a week all summer just for the schools. I know this for a fact. Where did all that money come from, and where did it go? Where I'm from, when you take money and hide where you got it from, take money when you don't need it, and spend money and hide where you spent it, you're called a crook. And that's all you and your ilk are. Crooks.
Susan Larson (Editor) September 12, 2012 at 01:54 AM
T-Bird: Thank you for participating in the discussion. Please share your opinions without name calling and personal attacks so that your posts won't have to be deleted for violating the terms of service.
Michael September 12, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Well, T-Bird, I never called you names but I see what you're willing to stoop to. Debt service is not a 'normal' part of the equation because it is not always directly under the school board's control; it is due specifically to the bond referenda that have been approved overwhelmingly by direct vote of the citizens of Fairfax Co. If it were such a bad thing, one would expect some of these referenda to fail. But they don't. I am also reporting your comments - you slander me when you call me a crook. Try monitoring your tone a little for a change.
Michael September 12, 2012 at 02:07 AM
And you would ask for an 8% transfer increase (and then settle for a smaller one) because 8% enrollment growth, plus inflation, equals a cut. If other departments have cut deeper, that's certainly unfortunate. But the school board and superintendent are legally obligated to request what they think is necessary for their own department. If the BOS gives them a portion of what they ask for, so be it. There was just an election, and the results spoke volumes about how most of Fairfax Co. feels on this issue. Perhaps you would get further with your requests for further cuts if you would refrain from calling everyone who disagrees with you a criminal.
T-Bird September 12, 2012 at 02:24 AM
Sue, I'm just calling it like it is. If you're going to delete posts, I would suggest you also look at Amelie Krikorian's post, which I also found offensive and contained a personal attack. I have reported it.
Michael September 12, 2012 at 02:30 AM
I've heard this particular complaint a couple of times from the same quarters. If you want to know what an office does, I suggest asking them. If you're not satisfied with the answer you get, try an FOIA request. The numbers from FY2008 don't even make sense when you look at the detailed budgets - 3.0 technicians at a total cost of only $76k? Presumably some of this cost is buried elsewhere in the budget instead. It's not likely that the actual people involved got a 50% raise as you allege. It's more likely that the shell game has shifted individual staff members and their compensation packages among departments. Indeed, if you look at the Dept. of Communication & Community Outreach, which includes the office in question, you see that both total staffing AND total expense dropped over the timeframe in question. This has more to do with poorly constructed budget documents than anything else. In any case, if the FCPS Dept. of Communications refuses to answer your questions directly, you can probably get Herrity & Co. to do some digging for you at budget time. It would be far more effective than posting a few selected facts and assuming the worst.
T-Bird September 12, 2012 at 02:37 AM
You want to play that game, then fine, I have reported Amelie Krikorian's comment above which contained a no less offensive personal attack. Thanks again for proving my point. And by the way, no I wouldn't ask for an 8% increase. Half of your own board couldn't even keep a straight face when "approving" that. Even Moon said that your board and staff keeps talking about reductions, but nothing ever happens. "Talk is cheap" he said. When the 8% includes funding free day care, salary bumps for everybody and cutting millions in fees, no I wouldn't ask for it. If it were for good reasons, I wouldn't have a problem with the fund transfer. If it were understandable where the funding was going, it would be fine. But it's not. It is purposeful subterfuge on the part of staff and Dale and the school board. If you are not complacent in this thievery, then you sir are willfully ignorant of what is going on. I only hope with Dale gone, things may improve, but I doubt it.
Michael September 12, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Kathy - Interestingly, in FY2011 Chicago spent 13,616 per puil - fairly close to the FCPS figure of 12,597. Based on recent news reports I had expected a much wider gap. Of course they are in a completely different environment; I'm just pointing out the unexpected similarity in per-pupil expense. More money doesn't always equal better - but neither does less. Programs like FLES may seem frivolous to many - but again, at budget time and at election time, that message doesn't get through to the board, because it is a minority position in the community. Personally, i don't see how cutting FLES would result in any net change for the better. Gatehouse, on the other hand, is a burden to everyone in the system, even to themselves. There has been NO movement beyond lip service to cutting un-necessary paperwork and freeing up teacher time. But that would have a remarkably small budget impact - nobody is actually paid to read a lot of that paperwork, it just sits there.
Michael September 12, 2012 at 02:53 AM
The documents may be a little thick sometimes, but I find it perfectly understandable where the funding is going. I see it every day. Many who aren't directly involved in the school system also find it perfectly understandable. If you have questions, I suggest directing them to FCPS' Office of Budget or Dept. of Communications (they must do something) or speaking to your Supervisor. This will probably yield more information and a more thorough discussion, for everyone's benefit. There is far less waste than anyone outside the system realizes. I consider the reasons behind the transfer requests to be "good." You obviously do not, while not providing specifics of what "waste" you would cut, and how you would divert the funds raised. I, for one, am always interested to hear the details of what critics would cut, but find they rarely have credible suggestions above a few million - which is a lot, until you consider the sheer size of the system. A million dollar cut is only just over $5 per pupil. Still worth cutting if it's wasteful, but hardly enough to lay the foundation for anything else.
Michael September 12, 2012 at 02:57 AM
Were you aware that almost all of the raise was mandated by state law, and is counteracted by an increase in employee contributions to retirement? It's not really a raise - it's a shell game instituted by the GOP in Richmond so they can pretend to be doing something about retirement. It's just as if your boss came to you and said, "Hey, buddy, you can have a 5% raise - but I'm deducting 5% of your check for uniforms and supplies." You wouldn't call that a raise, and neither do we. I know it looks that way when you only read the headlines, but try scratching the surface a little to see what's really going on.
T-Bird September 12, 2012 at 03:25 AM
Really, you completely understand the budget? That's funny, because I've heard many well informed people, including members of the Board of Supervisors, express dismay at school budget documents and a utter lack of answers when questioned. In fact, don't you yourself in a separate comment indicate "poorly constructed budget documents"? You see Michael, you don't seem to grasp the concept of budget reductions. It's not all cutting "waste". That's not what anybody is talking about. That's not what other agencies are doing. It is in fact, going line by line and really prioritizing every budget item. Then you start at the bottom and work your way up. Large or small, it doesn't matter. If it's not a priority, you cut it. And this attitude that it's "just a few million dollars" is very telling as to what is wrong. $1.7 million (the cost of eliminating the sports fees) is NOT pocket change. You add several of those together, and now you have made up your shortfall. That's how it works. But no, your board and Dale have REFUSED to do a line by line reduction. Why? Because it's not politically expedient. This is all about buying votes with special interest programs. Of course, being on the inside, I don't expect you to understand that.
CD September 12, 2012 at 11:57 AM
If you take a drive by Bailey's Elementary you see what the main problem is in the county it is illegal immigration and Boarding Houses. We have 3 or 4 families living in a 2 bedroom apartment or a single family home and the county is not take action and the supervisors are pressing the County not to take action. There is no green space left because FCPS had to put in trailers for the kids to learn in and if they have to go to the bathroom they have to ring a door bell and wait to be let into the building to use the bathroom. The taxpayers are paying for headstart education, free, reduce lunches and breakfast, school supplies, trailers, extra desk/ tables, extra teachers, ESL teachers, administrators, and the list could go on. It is time for our community to take back our schools and say enough is enough. The more the county allows this to happen the worst is only going to get.
Michael September 12, 2012 at 12:01 PM
T-Bone, even with the debt service included, you can't get anywhere CLOSE to your claim of a $700 million/year increase. Why not? Because TOTAL county debt service, including school and non-school portions, is less that $300 million/year. So there's no way it could be what you claim. FY2007 total with debt was 1.7bn, and FY 2012 would be about 1.8 bn. Check the debt service documents, it's all there: total school debt obligation of only 170 millions. I'd like to see where you got the facts to support your claim, because I can't conceive of the math that would make it true.
janet otersen September 12, 2012 at 01:59 PM
The funding problem gets worse each year because fewer and fewer are asked to pay more and more. At some point there will be a revolt. Taxpayers don't buy the argument of more money=better schools. Sure, the teachers deserve a decent salary but look at Chicago for a glimpse of an upcoming train wreck. They just gave a raise they can't afford---$400 million bump up in salary when they are looking at a $600 million budget deficit next year. You can cave in to unions if you want but at some point the bills come due and there won't be money there to make payroll. The end result will be a headcount reduction to pay for the salaries. Get ready for larger class sizes. At some point you guys will realize that this is the new reality. The real estate market isn't coming roaring back like the old days. Unemployment rate will stay near 8% for some time and DC could get hammered if this sequestration hits--beltway bandits are already sending out pink s;ips. Pretending that everything is rosy isn't helping the situation.
T-Bird September 12, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Lack reading skills much?? I didn't say $700 million per year. I said $700 million since 2007, as compared to your savings of $300. As far as I know, debt services forthe schools was around $200 million. Also, the increase in the transfer last year alone was over $70 million. So what part of your rear did you pull $80 million out of? My numbers are all from the county budget documents, and the Lee District Advisory Committe budget review commissioned by Supervisor McKay. Ad I'm going to assume your numbers are from that joke you call a budget document from the schools. So buddy, I'm not the one who has the screwey numbers. But keep playing the shell game. Keep convincing yourself that you are acually fooling anybody. FCPS is going to find out that the county has had enough of this nonsense, and it's time to learn a little responsibility and accountability.
Barry September 14, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Keith you are ignorant of some basic facts. Virginia is a ''right to work"... for less state. We dont have collective bargaining here.
Barry September 14, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Gosh Chris E....you dont know your basics facts either! VA is a right to work state whiner!
Michael September 15, 2012 at 02:18 AM
Nobody's 'caving to unions' in Virginia, that's for sure. If they had, teacher pay would be about 10% higher than it is, and there would be no shift to teachers paying for VRS out of their paychecks. In fact, we've already had headcount reductions to pay for salaries - it's happened at least twice in the past decade.
KB September 18, 2012 at 11:09 PM
I don't have time (nor the stomach) to read all of the inane comments from T-Bird - just got home from my cushy, high-paying job (5th grade teacher) and now have to take care of my own 3 kids...plus hours of preparation for tomorrow. So, I would just like to know if anyone told him/her that families actually do pay athletic fees ($100 per sport)?? I think it would be great news that he doesn't have to "pay more taxes so our little rug rats can play football"...they play and we pay!
T-Bird September 19, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Perhaps someone didn't tell you that eliminating the petty sports fees was a priority for your board. That said fees have been eliminated in the current and future budgets. Perhaps you should read a little before you make moronic and ignorant comments.
VABUCKI September 19, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Several years ago there was a consolidation of Staff into Gatehouse Rd. Staff efficiencies were to be realized. No new staff jobs were to be created. Well guess what, that never happened, many staff positions were 'created' all necessary of course. For example, do we really need that many PR people? How about those who received executive positions because they could not hack their current job? We don't hear much about that. The true focus should be on a line by line budget cut of staff period. The rest is smoke and mirrors.

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