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Votes

Board Adopts Pared-Down Schools Budget

Student Fees Help Offset Budget Shortfall

Tom Urban has an 8-year-old son who is autistic. His son belonged to an Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) program before Fairfax County Public Schools began its pilot program in 1998 and ending this June.

"Today you couldn't tell him from the mainstream children, and I'm his Little League coach," Urban said.

Even though Urban's son would not benefit from continuing the ABA program, he along with several other parents of autistic children launched a campaign to sway county School Board members to include funding in the school budget for an independent ABA professional to provide one-on-one and team consultations four times a year for each of the 65 children in the preschool autism program.

The new program, recommended by staff, incorporates elements of the school system's three existing programs — ABA, preschool reduced-ratio and preschool class-based, formerly known as the noncategorical program.

The cost of the consultant would add $100,000 to what had already been included in the budget for the revamped preschool autism program.

"It's only $100,000 in a $1 billion budget," Urban said. "ABA is the only program that has scientific proof that it is effective. I'm very disappointed in the six Democratic members that voted against ABA. They missed an opportunity to save money down the road."

Their efforts were taken up by School Board member Rita Thompson (At large), who tried to amend the budget to include the additional funding by taking the money from the Student Accountability program.

Her amendment was one of six to fail to gain majority support for various funding shifts Thursday night as the School Board adopted a $1.554 billion budget. A sixth amendment, by Christian Braunlich (Lee), to restore $1 million to the building maintenance and $200,000 to replacement equipment funds, was postponed until the midyear budget review.

The overall budget passed 11-1, with Mychele Brickner (At large) casting the dissenting vote, saying she was disappointed with the way the budget process was handled this year.

IN THE END, the School Board was able to shift some money around to phase in Project Excel at Parklawn and Weyanoke elementary schools, both in Alexandria. Superintendent of schools Daniel Domenech had hoped to expand the program to eight elementary schools as well as bring the Success by 8 program to six elementary schools, which was eliminated from the budget.

The planetarium program budget was slashed in half; however, no jobs will be lost. The program will now cater to fourth-graders instead of the fourth and fifth grades, and when not giving presentations at the nine planetariums, the teachers will be assigned to teach different science courses within the schools.

"I think we all value the planetariums," said Tessie Wilson (Braddock), who unsuccessfully tried to have the program's funding fully restored. "This Board, whether intentionally or unintentionally, did a disservice to the supporters of the planetariums when it said, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that it was taken off the table only to have it put back on on Monday."

Despite a large showing at the public hearings earlier this month from parents and students, the foreign-language immersion program will see a reduction in staffing at 10 of the 13 middle schools that offer the program. Mario Schiavo, the staffing and benefits coordinator in the Office of Budget Services, said this essentially means the budget will fund staffing for one period instead of two. However, the individual school administrators will have the option of supplementing the position through their regular staffing allocation.

An earlier proposal would have combined classes at the middle-school level. With the reduction in staff, the classes will remain separate.

The conflict-resolution and education library positions were restored at a total cost of $159,006, as was the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) training for custodial staff, at a cost of $86,120.

BUDGETARY LOSSES will be made up by charging a $25 per test fee, capped at $50, for AP/IB testing. Students on reduced- and free-lunch will not be charged. By charging the fee for AP/IB, the school system expects to generate $393,925.

While Fairfax County is believed to be the only local school system that pays for the testing, a few School Board members said the charge will become a barrier for some students to taking the courses. The testing is required of all students taking the advanced classes, which earn college credit.

"Charging for the tests sends the wrong message," said Robert Frye (At large). "At the high-school level, we have a hard time getting them to turn in the reduced- and free-lunch forms because of the stigma of being poor. Statistics show that there's not so much of a stigma in elementary and middle school. The numbers drop off at high school even though families are eligible. The result is, we'll be charging kids whose families qualify for reduced- and free-lunch, because the kids didn't turn the forms in."

Two amendments were put forth by Board members to eliminate the testing fee, with both failing to gain majority support.

OTHER PROGRAMS taking a hit because of the budget reductions include the elimination of boys varsity gymnastics, less funds for SOL after-school remediation, charging a fee for fine arts and concert field trips, an increase in student parking fees and the removal of the student cap for secondary SOL end-of-course classes.

Besides programs, there will be less money for building maintenance and replacement buses, and the purchase of new textbooks will be put on hold. Seventy-seven departmental positions will be eliminated, some by lay-offs, for a saving of $3.8 million.

In addition, the county Board of Supervisors reduced support for the Enterprise School by $50,000; abolished 28 hourly clinic-room aide positions, saving $500,000; and reduced athletic field maintenance at elementary- and middle-school sites by $300,000 in their budget.

"All of us tonight wish we were not cutting this budget," said finance and budget chair Jane Strauss (Dranesville). "We do not want to go back to a basic, stripped-down education."

For a compete list of the FY ‘03 budget cuts, visit the school system Web site at www.fcps.edu and click on "FY2003 Budget."

The School Board will hold its first FY ‘04 budget work session Wednesday, June 26, at 2:30 p.m., at the Burkholder Center, 10700 Page Ave., in Fairfax.