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Votes

Deficit Decisions

School Board takes an initial look at cuts to next year's budget.

The Fairfax County School Board will face some tough decisions next spring if they do not receive an increase in funding, said many of its members during a work session Nov. 12.

Fairfax County expects to see a sharp downturn in revenue starting next year and the Board of Supervisors has said it will take a conservative fiscal approach to the county's 2009 budget — including the school system's funding.

During a joint meeting of the two boards last summer, Fairfax County Board of Supervisor chairman Gerry Connolly told the school board to prepare for a zero percent increase in 2009 over the current budget. Should the school system receive no additional funding in 2009, it would face a $105 million shortfall, according to school board documents.

Eliminating a series of planned program expansions and an automatic three percent pay bump for employees could decrease the deficit to $22.9 million, according documents prepared by school staff. But school board members said they would be unwilling to make most of these changes — leaving the shortfall at $98.8 million.

"At this point, giving the employees a market scale adjustment is very important," said School Board member Phil Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence).

IN ADDITION to the employee's annual cost of living pay raise — which would total $52.4 million for 2009 — the rejected changes would have included delaying the replacement of the student information system ($5.7 million), expansion of the elementary school foreign language program ($2.1 million), and expansion of full-day kindergarten ($5.7 million).

Niedzielski-Eichner said there are also some new costs factored into the schools' budget shortfall, such as the $10 million associated with a projected enrollment increase, which the school system has no choice but to absorb.

Superintendent Jack Dale and other administrators have identified approximately $9.3 million in cuts associated with central administration that could be used to offset the deficit. But some of these reductions, like eliminating the replacement of project light bulbs ($75,000 annually) and a new 10 percent work order fee, would simply be passed onto the individual schools, according to school board documents.

Other proposed central administration cutbacks include the elimination of school-based Blackberry devices and signing bonuses, including those used to recruit bus drivers. Dale and his staff have also suggested reducing the number of times the school system's grass is cut in the summer and moving more snow removal in-house, according to documents.

The remaining cuts would likely have to come from school-based programs.

In a survey taken by the school system's cluster superintendents and representatives from Fairfax's elementary, middle school, high school principal communities, agreed that "time out" rooms ($710,000) the planetarium program ($550,000) could be cut. There was no agreement on what other programs should be cut, according to school board documents.

Other items that could be on the block include: summer school redesign ($5 million), a delay of the new textbook adoption ($2.7 million), student accountability program ($2.66 million), and a program for professional teaching standards ($800,000).

OTHER PROPOSALS which received the approval of at least two of the four superintendent/principal communities include eliminating the foreign language immersion program; eliminating freshman athletic teams; eliminating elementary gifted and talented centers; reducing the number of class periods in the day; increasing the size of special education and general education classes; imposing fees for Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate tests; eliminating busing of administratively placed students; imposing a $50 fee for extra curricular classes; reducing the number of instruction assistant positions.

Principals representing the elementary, middle and high school communities said many of these cuts would be likely to increase class size and may adversely affect at-risk or struggling students.

Some of the changes "would not impact the general education classes but would make pulling out difficult. ...It would affect remediation," said Arlene Randall, principal of Cooper Middle School.

Several School Board members said many of the cuts that were currently on the table were untenable and that they would not commit to cuts until they had asked the Board of Supervisors for a three to four percent budget increase, which would bring in an additional $40 million to $50 million.

"Considering what students need, I am not willing to commit to any reductions," said School Board member Ilryong Moon (At-large).