Schools superintendent Daniel Domenech released the school system's proposed $1.6 billion budget, an increase of 5.6 percent over last year, on Jan. 9. The budget relies on Gov. Mark Warner's (D) pledge not to cut education funding in the state budget and asks the Board of Supervisors to provide a 7.9-percent transfer, the amount of the budget paid for by the county. Last year in February, the supervisors set a 7-percent transfer, then lowered it to 5.3 percent in late December.
The proposed budget includes a $74.8 million increase in employee compensation and benefits, consisting of a cost of living and step increase totaling 4.6 percent, the addition of a Step 18 to the unified scale and a .5-percent contribution to the employees’ Virginia retirement plan. It does not include any new programs.
The School Board held a public hearing Monday night on the proposed budget that attracted 24 speakers, including three students, and no more than 50 audience members. The topics ranged from the financial burden of the International Baccalaureate (IB)/Advanced Placement (AP) testing fees on some students, adequately paying teachers and other staff, funding for the College Partnerships Program, lowering class size and even criticism over the budget increase. Below are some excerpts from the testimony presented.
Ana Rose Alvarez, Annandale High School, student, regarding IB/AP testing fees:
"I plan to earn an IB diploma and go to Harvard by never giving up. … It's hard to understand why I have to pay for tests to receive a diploma, which I have earned with my hard work."
Albert Lawrence, Mount Vernon High School, senior and SGA president, regarding IB/AP testing fees:
"The IB program has given me an opportunity to dive deeper into areas such as business management, theater, chemistry and calculus that I would not have been able to do otherwise. … To remove funding for the program would put many students at a disadvantage. Simply because of their lack of funds, opportunity to engage in such programs would be denied to them."
Barbara Allen, Fairfax Education Association (FEA), president, regarding staff compensation:
"In recent weeks, we have been encouraged to hear Dr. Domenech commit to making FCPS employees the highest compensated within five years. While we enthusiastically endorse this commitment, please know that employees judge compensation by more than a number on the salary scale and the word employee includes more than teachers. Simply moving money from retirement or benefits into salary will not do. All employees must make real, measurable, bottom line gains."
Arlene Pripeton, Woodson High School, PTSA vice president, regarding small class sizes:
"The first priority in the budget should be smaller classes for all students. Although the Fairfax school system boasts that 92 percent of the employees are school based, this is misleading. There are 21,554 employees. Only 7,207 of these are full-time classroom teachers. … The school system is here to teach, not to administrate."
Jim Scutt, Frost Middle School, PTA president, regarding the possible elimination of 156 staff positions to cover any budget shortfalls:
"Before one principal or assistant principal loses their job, before one teacher or instructional aide, before one support staff or custodian loses their job over this budget or before one classroom sees the addition of one more student, you in a good faith show of support for the people who work for you in this system, need to see you relinquish the $25,000 bonus so generously granted you by partisan politics that infests this [School Board]. Not one job should be lost, not one classroom enlarged."
Amy McKay, Little Run Elementary School, PTA president, regarding smaller class sizes:
"The message I receive from parents is class size. We have classrooms with 33 children, which is unacceptable. Think of what could be done with one more teacher."
Judy Johnson, Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, president, regarding money spent on remediation:
"The school system's budget problems can be summed up in one word, remediation. The FCPS is spending over $150 million each year, over 10 percent of our operating budget, to help children who don't get it the first time. This is the majority of our spending beyond what is required by law."
John Knowles, Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations, president, regarding the class of 2004:
"The resolution [approved by the council] expressed our strong concern that a significant percentage of students in the class of 2004 are at risk of failing to meet the SOL [Standards of Learning] test requirements and thereby failing to graduate from high school. The Mount Vernon Council urges the School Board and Superintendent Domenech to allocate or reallocate whatever resources are required to ensure that the highest possible percentage of students in the class of 2004 and subsequent high-school classes will be able to graduate."
Judy Baird, Support Services Employees Advisory Council, president, regarding staff compensation:
"Under the constraints of the revenue shortfall, the 2 percent market scale adjustment, coupled with our current benefit package, is reasonable. We also appreciate the superintendent honoring his commitment to add Step 18 to the unified scale. However, we question the equity of increasing the employer's contribution to the Educational Employees' Supplementary Retirement System of Fairfax County (ERFC) and not providing the same for your Fairfax County Supplemental Retirement System (FCERS) employees. The majority of your support employees — bus drivers, custodians, food service workers and maintenance workers — are covered under FCERS."
Art Wells, Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations, president, regarding the development of the budget:
"The particular approach or method that I wish to commit on concerns restricting the budget for the coming year to the current budget funding levels with growth limited to the rate of inflation plus the increase in the population to be served. … However, we regard limiting increases to the rate of inflation plus population growth as unrealistic in addressing real world program and funding requirements."
Phylicia Foreman, Annandale High School, junior, regarding the funding of the College Partnership Program:
"CPP provides opportunities for students to become leaders in their base schools or in the community. … All of CPP activities lead to CPP students making positive choices about staying on the pathway to college."
Arthur Purves, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, president, regarding the development of the budget:
"In this year's budget letter, the superintendent states that FCPS budget cuts have totaled $80.5 million in the past three years. … This year's budget is $180 million more than needed to keep up with inflation and enrollment growth over the past three years. How can anyone transform this into a budget cut?"
Donna Lewis, Newington Forest Elementary School, principal, regarding funding for instructional assistants for Success by 8 schools:
"In our zeal to implement the program, we reluctantly agreed that we would try to make it work within the financial limitations outlined. … However, the one issue that persists in blocking what we feel to be an essential component to the long-term success of the program is the service of a full-time instructional assistant in every kindergarten classroom in Success by 8 schools, as exists in all other kindergarten programs."