Three months into the FY 2003 school budget comes unofficial word that Fairfax County may not be getting the $200 million it thought it was going to receive from the state. Instead, the county is facing even more cuts on top of the $47 million the board already eliminated from the then-proposed budget in May because of a lack of funding.
The School Board eventually passed a $1.554 billion budget, with 75 percent of that coming from Fairfax County and the rest from federal and state sources as well as grants, in late May that took effect July 1.
"We are hearing from state sources that we may very well be getting a cut in our school aid in the current budget year," Daniel Domenech, Fairfax County Public Schools superintendent, told the School Board Thursday, Sept. 26. "The early projections were a 10 percent reduction for next year. Current statements being made call for a cut of 5 percent for this year we're in. That would be about a $10 million cut for us."
Official word regarding the cut is not expected before December when the governor submits his proposed budget, which includes an update for the current fiscal year. By then, the school system will be six months into its FY 2003 budget.
THE SCHOOL SYSTEM isn't waiting until then and instead is already taking steps to head off any shortfalls. In addition, the expected enrollment increase of 2,959 general education students did not materialize. Early September enrollment figures show that number was over projected by at least 600 students, for a net savings of about $4 million.
"The good news is we don't have as many kids as we thought," said Charles Woodruff, the school system's chief financial officer. "So that's about $4 million we won't need this year. We also have $8 million in a flexible reserve and we have $4 million that was set aside at the end of [fiscal year] '02 to carry into [fiscal year] '04. That's available to us this year to stay afloat."
In addition, the superintendent has asked departments to defer purchases, to minimize travel and to hold off on filling vacant support positions indefinitely. Vacancies in critical positions are being held two weeks longer than normal before being filled.
"We are requiring everybody's cooperation," Woodruff said. "The target is to save about 2.5 percent. Nothing is sacred."
SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER Jane Strauss (Dranesville), the finance and budget chairman, said several other agencies were warned further cuts could be imminent, but there was hope the K-12 education would be spared, which now does not seem to be the case.
"There is no official word yet and we may not get it until December when its harder to cover $10 million. So the superintendent is wisely taking measures now," Strauss said. "So overall, we're dealing with a reduction in state funds for the '03 budget of $56 million to $57 million. And we're also concerned with balancing the '04 budget."
Charles Pyle, the public information manager for the Virginia Department of Education, said his office does not have any information about possible additional cuts.
Earlier in September, Domenech projected a deficit of $60 million to $70 million the FY 2004 budget. At that time, department heads were asked to begin identifying potential cuts of 2.5 percent.
"Knowing what we know … we're looking at a three-year period before the economy recovers. It could be a long time before we see any assistance from the state," Domenech said.