What Money Can Buy

What Money Can Buy

Brenda Zikowitz wore the perk she received from the school system after driving students to and from Fairfax schools for more than 25 years.

"The shirt that I wear tonight was given to me for 25 years of safe driving. Although this is a nice gesture, it again is an example of cut backs that have affected our job," Zikowitz said, referring to previous salary freezes and furloughs.

Zikowitz was one of 18 people to testify before the School Board on Monday, Feb. 1 on the $1.8 billion budget proposed by outgoing Superintendent Daniel Domenech.

Supporting Zikowitz was Helen Stump who has been a bus driver for 37 years and Betty Hill who has been a bus attendant for 17 years. "The morale amongst the drivers has hit an all time low. A prime example of this would be the continuing driver shortage," Zikowitz said.

The School Board is scheduled to adopt the FY2005 budget on Thursday, Feb. 12. The Board is tentatively scheduled to give a presentation to the Board of Supervisors on March 30.

MANY SPEAKERS ADVOCATED for salaries and benefits of teachers and support staff, and facilities in which they work.

"In reality, we have lost ground to Montgomery County in terms of salary. Benefits are still much more expensive for employees than across the river," said Barbara Allen, president of the Fairfax Education Association. "Retirement is better in Fairfax, but only because your employees contribute 6.5 percent of their own salary to fund it."

Rick Baumgartner said there's no better time to let teachers know they are appreciated and valued. "As you know the community annually recognizes a week in May as Teacher Appreciation Week," Baumgartner said. "What if this year, rather than having a proclamation eloquently read by a member of the School Board, we celebrate by committing to a plan to compensate your teachers in a manner that allows them to work in adequate facilities as well as live and retire in the community in which they serve?"

OTHERS HAD DIFFERENT points of view. "Spending increases appear to be primarily the result of large salary increases. Data provided by you suggests that over the past 16 years, teachers have been receiving annual raises of nearly seven percent," said Arthur G. Purves, president of the Fairfax County Tax Payers Alliance.

"If salaries are too low, why did you have 13,000 applications for 1,600 job openings last year?" he asked.

Competitive compensation for teachers and staff "leaves no opportunity for new programs and staff so necessary for meeting NCLB standards," according to Charles W. Dane, of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations. Dane suggests that the school system consider selling some unused school sites to raise money.

COMPENSATION WAS NOT the only consideration. Parents and community members turned out with some specific concerns. Serving the needs of the immigrant population was one area of need.

Vincent Kim asked the Board to increase the fund for school libraries to purchase books on Asian history and culture.

James Yim Victory, who advocated for spending for adult education programs, reminded the Board that one-third of Fairfax residents speak languages other than English and that one of every four residents in Fairfax County were born in another country.

"Be it at a restaurant, dry cleaner, gas station, or any other service establishment, we have all experienced the frustration of not being able to communicate with the provider of the service because the other party did not speak English well. I am sure the frustration runs both ways. I've been on both sides," Victory said. "Teach them to speak English, then we can tell them what we want.

"Hey, I am not talking about John Lennon's ideal country. It's about life as it should be," Victory said.

Some county high schools have students from 86 nations speaking approximately 46 languages, according to Arthur Andrew Lopez, of the Annandale High School Academic Advisory Council.

"We saw an alarming rate of truancy among students whose parents do not speak English as their first language, particularly males from Spanish-speaking homes," Lopez said.

Lopez urged the Board to support outreach efforts, including parent liaisons who speak different languages and can assist parents who are "otherwise isolated from their children's education."

"As a school system, we need to move beyond translations of documents as the major outreach to those who speak languages other than English. We must consider the impact of culture and personal experiences for our families, and extend opportunities for personal contact to both parents and students with limited English proficiency," Lopez said.