Inside the board auditorium at the Fairfax County Government Center, a public hearing was in progress.
Outside, in the five-story atrium, a mass of grownups wearing red shirts and carrying small umbrellas assembled for a meeting that combined the dynamics of a pep rally with the fervor of a tent revival.
On the evening that budget hearings began in Fairfax County, school teachers from the Fairfax Education Association (FEA) dressed in red shirts and carried red umbrellas to demonstrate that a “rainy day” might have arrived in Fairfax County.
“Brighter Futures? Don’t save for a rainy day when our schools need help now,” read the white type on the red umbrellas.
Rick Baumgartner, FEA president, led the group in chants:
“I say brighter, you say futures,” he chanted, “Brighter!”
“Futures!” said the crowd.
“Brighter!” said Baumgartner.
“Futures!” they answered.
In the same way, he also called out “I say more, you say money: More!”
The chants could be heard inside the board room, where supervisors had just heard 19 of 21 speakers had just asked for a reduction in the effective tax rate.
The teachers want the board to give schools the proceeds from the five percent cuts to be identified in the budgets of county agencies.
Fairfax School Board President Stu Gibson (Hunter Mill) said, “There are people who want to make your jobs harder.” The supervisors, he said, “say ‘we are not hearing from the school folks.’”
“They are not telling us what a disaster it will be if the schools have to cut” funding, he said, calling underfunded schools “the train wreck that is waiting to happen come September.”
“The state of Virginia, which has very high standards of education, does not do a good job of delivering funding for schools,” said board member Ernestine Heastie (Providence) a former teacher.
Del. Gary Reese, (R-67th) a former School Board member, said that “If Fairfax County this year reduces taxes, do you have any idea what kind of message that will send to Richmond?” he asked the crowd.
Referring to the shortfall in state funding for education, Del. Tom Rust (R-86th) said since he and Reese are both freshmen in the House of Delegates, they can work to get more money for schools. “We don’t know that you can’t change the tax structure. We don’t know you can’t change the composite index,” he told the throng.
Supervisor Dana Kauffman emerged from the board auditorium to acknowledge the crowd, thanking them for inviting him to the rally and for educating his son, a kindergartner in public school this year.