As many have become aware, the Fairfax County School Board’s budget discussions for the 2015 fiscal year have begun early. It is unfortunate that it has taken a combination of a $140 million deficit and demonstrable efforts by FCPS’ new Superintendent Karen Garza to bring full attention of the stakeholders, including the School Board, to education policy and funding.
While in office, my focus has been a common sense approach to drive our education dollars into the classroom: emphasizing academic rigor, teacher salaries, addressing the legacy costs of the Virginia Retirement System and benefits, improving accuracy in student population projections, the achievement gap of minorities and students with disabilities, efficient use of facilities and resources, wise spending for the health of students to mitigate future costs, as well as number of other strategic issues.
For our last two School Board budget cycles, I have sought discussion on priorities and brought detailed line items to the board seeking difficult but necessary reductions or re-prioritizations in spending. While to date the board has been unwilling to entertain these measures, I am hopeful this year some of this previous work will guide our budget decisions.
Addressing priorities and digging into line items of the budget can no longer be put off or deemed beyond our role as elected officials. As a School Board member, I understand there are a finite number of resources for the 1.1 million residents of Fairfax County, where 53 percent of the budget is transferred from the Board of Supervisors to fund part of the overall $2.5 billion FCPS budget.
There is no realistic expectation that $140 million in additional funding will materialize from the county, state or federal funding mechanisms. Therefore, it is a crucial reality for the Superintendent and board to address not only the funding side of the equation, but the spending side as well.
It is incumbent upon this current School Board to demonstrate it has done everything in its power to confirm all expenses are imperative before requesting even more resources. The School Board has a fiduciary duty to ensure the public’s resources are spent judiciously.
There are certain factors — on-going rapid student population growth, $27 Million increase in healthcare costs, $37 million increase for Virginia Retirement System contributions — which are unfortunately out of the control of the division.
In addition, FCPS’ anticipated loss of state revenue — to the tune of $21 million this budget cycle as the Virginia General Assembly redirects funds elsewhere in the Commonwealth through the complex Local Composite Index (LCI) formula — exacerbates the process of funding FCPS as the 11th largest school district in the country.
Superintendent Garza is to be commended for this unprecedented proactive approach to initiate dialogue by and between the board and FCPS staff, and to engage the public.
There are no right answers, as every program, benefit, feature or offering which is a part of the daily lives of 184,000 students and their families and the 24,000 employees who amount to 88 percent of the FCPS budget is valued and considered important to someone.
I have asked the School Board to consider early budget discussions in the community to parallel the superintendent’s effort. Ensuring the advertised and, most importantly, the final FY 2015 approved budget reflect the input and values of all our stakeholders is very important.
I welcome ongoing input as we shape our decisions; the budget calendar may be found at http://www.fcps.edu/news/fy2015.shtml. By working collaboratively with the community and superintendent, I look forward to finding responsible and realistic solutions that focus on retaining quality education in our classrooms.