The recent General Assembly session left many connected with Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) disappointed with the state's lack of support for the local schools.
At last count, FCPS will lose approximately $50 million in state funding, so the idea of Northern Virginia — comprising Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties and the localities contained within them — seceding and becoming its own commonwealth or state looks pretty good to some.
"Given what happened at the legislature this session, secession is looking more attractive and as a more viable option than we've had in the past," said Mitch Luxenberg, president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs. "Our rights of self-determination have been abridged, and I don't understand why our ability to meet our financial needs is curtailed by a delegate from Amherst [Speaker of the House Del. Vance Wilkins (R-24th)]. People are feeling raw and troubled."
Feelings are so raw, Luxenberg said, that he knows of people considering a petition to secede.
BASED ON the current revenue stream generated in Northern Virginia, School Board chairman Stuart Gibson said there would be no problem with fully funding the schools. However, he said creating a new state of "North Virginia" would require creating a new revenue system that is more suited to today's climate and issues.
"It would give us a lot more control over our own destiny. We'd have more flexibility to provide for the needs of the residents," Gibson said. "We have enough brilliant minds in Northern Virginia, I'm confident we could come up with a tax system for the 21st century that meets the needs of our residents."
Northern Virginia accounts for 34 percent of the income-tax revenue collected throughout the commonwealth, and 3.5 cents of the sales tax collected locally goes back to the state while only 1 cent is returned to the local governments.
Schools Superintendent Daniel Domenech said that means the school system would not only be able to fully fund and expand its proposed $1.6 billion budget, it could put a dent in its $1.78 billion Capital Improvements Program (CIP).
"We would all of a sudden be an incredibly wealthy school system. We would have all that money back that they are not giving us," Domenech said. "We could probably implement a tax cut because we generate a healthy amount of revenue. With that influx, we could reduce class size, build new schools, renovate old ones, implement Project Excel in all the schools, have all-day kindergarten in our elementary schools, enhance technology, pay staff the wages their entitled to, and we would basically be able to implement the CIP."
DOMENECH SAID the school system could build a centralized administration building, which would help reduce expenses and increase efficiency, and could turn some of the old administration buildings back into schools. In other cases, it would be more economical to tear down the old buildings and start from scratch.
The ideal classroom would have a student population in the low 20s, and a cap of 29 would be put in place at all grade levels. Even with the reduction in class size, the need for trailers could be eliminated with the additional schools gained by reusing the administration buildings and by completing long-awaited renovation projects.
The Standards of Learning tests (SOLs) in their current form would be history, although Domenech said some form of assessment would need to be created to take their place.
In terms of how the school system is run, Domenech said he did not see any reason to make changes. The problem now, he said, is the funding needed to maintain the system.
The superintendent said he would anticipate a schools budget that was "a couple hundred million more" than the proposed FY ‘03 $1.6 billion budget, should Northern Virginia secede.
"I don't see a downside. The only major drawback would be for the state of Virginia. Mississippi would have something to celebrate; they would no longer be 50th," Domenech said. "We are in essence the cash cow for the rest of the state, and that is why there will never be a state of Northern Virginia. They will never let us go."