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Community Given Opportunity to Propose School Budget Cuts

Members of the community got to take the axe to the Fairfax County Public Schools April 3 during a pair of simultaneous budget town meetings held at Lanier Middle School in Fairfax and Edison High School in Franconia.

After a brief budget overview presentation, the attendees were divided up into small groups and sent to a classroom to decide what they would cut from the proposed $1.6 billion budget, which is expected to need about $65 million worth of trimming.

The exercise showed the School Board and other school officials nothing was sacred with programs ranging from adult education, Project Excel, JROTC and even the Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology being proposed for cuts or total elimination. The results of the town meetings are available on the school system’s Web site, www.fcps.edu, under the budget link.

“I support the programs but there is inefficiency,” said Don Tepper, of Fairfax, one of the 10 people assigned to Room 110 during the Lanier meeting. “The system needs to look at eliminating the inefficiency, waste and bloat from otherwise valuable programs.”

THE SCHOOL SYSTEM is proposing a budget that is $136 million higher than last year, due to increased student enrollment, higher benefits costs, expansion of academic programs and staff salaries. However, the school system lost about $50 million in state aid.

“We usually get between $15 million and $20 million in state aid,” said Daniel Domenech, schools superintendent. “That is not the case this year. As of this point, we’re looking at a deficit of $65 million that we are basically looking at the county to help us with. … The county has basically said it can’t see themselves covering that deficit.”

Citizens in Room 110 came up with 34 suggestions for cuts or elimination, as well as proposed analyzing certain programs seen as repetitive. The group then narrowed down their suggestions to their top-five priorities, as did the groups in other rooms.

In the end, the group in room 110 suggested all special education services in excess of $155 million be analyzed for overlaps; eliminated adult programs, adult education and adult high school completion; suggested the schools system eliminate waste, bloat and inefficiencies; eliminated the JROTC program; suggested better defined requirements for students to be eligible to receive special services such as emotional disabilities, autism, physical disabilities, moderate retardation/severe disabilities and mild retardation programs to avoid misuse; and recommended a 50 percent reduction on the gifted and talented program.

LITTLE ESCAPED the scrutiny of people in room 110, who questioned the need for guidance counselors, time-out rooms, the English for speakers of other languages program. They suggested cutting energy usage by 25 percent, and put Jefferson on the chopping block, among others.

“Eliminate the AP [advanced placement] diploma. The high schools offer AP courses already. Why do we need an AP diploma?,” said Alice Reilly, of Fairfax, a member of room 110.

They even came up with ideas for the Board of Supervisors.

“We need to be charging developers for the stress on our school system. I see this as a valuable, important issue to control the growth,” said Todd Williams, of Fair Oaks, a member of room 110, who is also a teacher. “I realize this is not in the scope of Fairfax County Public Schools, but we need to control the issuance of building permits.”