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School Board Spells Out Budget for County

Supervisors: School Cuts Unavoidable

The two elected boards in Fairfax County disagree on how much it costs to educate the estimated 166,546 students that will flood the halls of the schools next year by about $70 million. Of the Fairfax County Public Schools' proposed $1.6 billion budget, a $137 million increase over last year, at least $1.2 billion is expected to come from the county. The remainder comes from grants, as well as federal and state funding.

The School Board and Board of Supervisors met Monday afternoon as a way of setting the stage for the upcoming budget wrangling. Some supervisors made it clear, the School Board needs to be prepared to make cuts because there was no way the budget request will be fully funded.

"If we fully funded the schools' budget, there would be $26 million left over for the county to fund everything else," Supervisor Gerald Connolly (D-Providence) said referring to what would remain of any projected new revenue to spend on other county services.

What the two bodies did agree on is the state is not holding up its end of the bargain when it comes to funding public education.

"If JLARC [Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee] had been taken to heart, we would be receiving $88 million more than what we're receiving," said Daniel Domenech, the schools superintendent.

Instead, due to changes in the local composite index (LCI), the formula used to distribute state education funds, the school system is looking at a loss of $26 million in state aid, in addition to at least a $10 million loss in state sales tax revenue.

BOTH THE SUPERVISORS and School Board criticized the local representatives to the General Assembly for failing to secure more funding for the local schools in the form of the failed sales tax referendum and their inability to get a "hold harmless" amendment passed that holds jurisdictions experiencing a large drop in their funding due to the LCI "harmless" to 10 percent of the total loss.

The House of Delegates quickly adjourned Saturday evening even though a proposed sales tax referendum for Northern Virginia was still on the table for debate. The proposal, approved by the Senate, would have raised the sale tax a penny, with half a cent going to transportation projects. The other half cent would be split, with 80 percent remaining in Northern Virginia for school construction projects.

All of the Northern Virginia Democrats and a few Republicans voted against the adjournment or abstained, said Del. Robert Hull (D-38), a member of the House education committee. Local Dels. Dave Albo (R-42), Tom Bolvin (R-43), Jay O'Brien (R-40), Gary Reese (R-67), Richard Black (R-32) and Joe May (R-33) supported the adjournment, which effectively killed the bill before it could be debated.

"The public has to recognize Northern Virginia is paying for the rest of the state. I think it is time we let the public know who the problem is," said Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield). "We're funding a state that won't even let us vote to use our own money for our schools. I say we either get rid of the Dillon rule or we create the State of Northern Virginia."

School Board chairman Stuart Gibson also said he was disappointed with the local representatives' failure to get the referendum passed for the second year in a row.

"Four members of our delegation [from Fairfax County] voted to go home," Gibson said. "I just hope in next year's election, if you say you're for education you remember you're vote has to reflect what you're rhetoric is."

THE SUPERVISORS suggested that the School Board not view everything in the proposed budget as sacred. Several members said they wanted to see a breakdown of the special programs, saying maybe it was time to evaluate whether they were really needed. In fact, the schools' budget proposes to increase spending for educational programs by 7 percent.

"I see none of the cuts that were made are program cuts, like Chinese immersion or fourth-grade string. Show us what are all the different programs above a basic education," said Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee).

Domenech said cutting programs would be hard. "When I go into a school, nobody says I want less. In fact, they say they want more," he said.

Employee salaries could also be restructured, suggested Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville), who pointed out that according to a chart provided by the school system, it is one of two districts that offers a flat increase across the board while other local jurisdictions offer different increase percentages to teachers, support staff and administrators.

He also said it appeared to him the school system presented a budget without looking at trimming the fat first.

"Seems to me, you gave us a full budget without looking at it with a critical review and then plan to cut later," Mendelsohn said. "I don't think we can keep doing $137 million increases and have the public pay for it."

THE COUNTY BUDGET public hearings are scheduled for April 8-10, with April 9, beginning at 6:30 p.m., dedicated to the school's request. The supervisors are expected to set the transfer amount on April 22. The School Board has set aside May 6, 13 and 20 for budget work sessions and expects to adopt the budget May 23.