Martin Responds to Belter

Martin Responds to Belter

Letter to the Editor

<bt>To the Editor:

I was appalled to read that my opponent Cathy Belter actually stated, for the record, "If people think we have waste in the budget, then all of us should be put out to pasture." (The Connection, Oct. 9). No responsible elected School Board representative can possibly stand by this statement!

Each year, the school system spends $1.67 billion, roughly 53 percent of the entire Fairfax County budget to educate our children ($2.2B with state, federal, and private grants!), and if you ask the School Board how much money they spend on office supplies, furniture, computers, etc., they cannot tell you. Why? Because our school system has no central accounting and inventory system!

Our school system does not have a reliable means to audit itself, nor has it been audited reliably in recent history. For this reason, we have no reliable way of knowing how our dollars are spent, or if they are being spent most effectively. (Even the National Endowment of the Arts with an annual budget of $300-$380M has a full-time Inspector general to ensure their budget is spent and managed effectively.) The one-time only hiring of outside firms that are not familiar with our system will not provide the answers that we require, and may in fact, as we have recently witnessed, generate more questions than answers. I propose that we hire a full-time inspector general who audits the system's finances every year. To stop the acrimony between the Board of Supervisors and the School Board, this position will report to our Board of Supervisors — those elected representatives who are beholden to the taxpayers.

Last year, the school system projected an enrollment of 166,000 children — the actual enrollment is 163,000 — where are the $38 million received over their projection? Did this money make its way into our children's classrooms or into the paychecks of our teachers? Parents and teachers already know the answer. For the coming year, there is an estimated $80 million shortfall. My opponent has already stated publicly that we will need to find new funds or face painful cuts. I will not accept these two options.

In fact, as a parent with two children in the school system, and as a candidate for the School Board in the Springfield District, I am going to insist that we increase the money that goes directly into classrooms. Fairfax County must continue to decrease class sizes until we achieve an average of 18-1 in elementary school and 28-1 in higher grades. My opponent has stated that keeping class sizes under 30 is "going to be a challenge for us." (The Connection, Oct. 9). This is a challenge the School Board will have to tackle. As an educator, I know first hand how class size directly correlates to pupil success.

We must also retain excellent teachers. As a faculty administrator, I know how essential it is to maintain competitive compensation for teachers. Yet in Fairfax County, we have one of the highest turnover rates in the region, and we continue to lose many of our best and brightest to surrounding counties because our pay and benefits are simply not competitive.

Cathy Belter stated that "The Board of Supervisors are the ones that unfortunately we have to go to, to get the money, more than any other place." (The Connection, Oct. 9) I disagree. Working together with our Board of Supervisors, it is time for the School Board to examine innovative ways to improve the quality of our education system without relying on an even larger share of a county budget that must also provide other essential county services. Nor can we count on a state remedy in the near future. My opponent also stated that "We're hoping that we'll see a little bit more coming, if not a lot more coming from the state than we've had in the last year." (The Connection, Oct. 9). The reality is that the state is projected to experience a $1.5B shortfall this coming year, so I can also assure you that my opponent will not be able to "wrestle some of that money from Richmond" — nor will I hold her accountable for not having done so during these last four years that she has served us. Although we — the voters of Northern Virginia, the School Board, the Board of Supervisors, and our elected Delegates and Senators — must work together across party lines to return more tax dollars to our region, our children cannot wait for Richmond. Hoping for more money will not solve the problems we now face and will in the near future. There are steps we can take now, and I propose we examine the following:

Merging the school system's department of Facilities Services, General Services and parts of the Departments of Human Resources and Information Technology with the same county departments, because they do the same thing, could generate $150-$200 million annually.

The school system's Department of IT currently has, on the shelf, Intellectual Property that could be commercialized and licensed to other school systems and private companies that can generate $35- $50 million within five years.

Dismantling the eight-point school cluster system which a three or four-point area system for an annual savings of $2.5-3 million dollars. (I have borrowed this proposal from the many teachers and principals with whom I have spoken.)

By streamlining administration and reducing waste — yes, waste — these proposals alone could save millions of dollars and redirect them into our classrooms! It is the fiduciary responsibility of our elected School Board members to oversee the budget and ensure that funds are spent efficiently and in the best interest of all our children. As parents, we entrust our elected School Board members to represent us and contribute ideas and concrete proposals to the crisis facing our school system. Unlike my opponent, I actually have a plan to improve our school system and fund my platform proposals without relying on new money or program cuts. My background in education and administration has provided me with the experience and knowledge to make these proposals a reality, for your children and mine!

Dr. Scott M. Martin