Mount Vernon Supporting the public schools is Fairfax County’s number one priority. Proof of that lies in the fact that over 50 percent of the county’s budget supports school programs. This large expense has generated considerable debate among county taxpayers over the years. However, this year the discussion has become toxic and personal.
I went to the Lee District budget hearing on Wednesday evening, March 26, to hear presenters from Fairfax County and Fairfax County Public Schools explain their respective proposed budgets. Although the financial picture has improved, the county is still not free of the impacts of the economic downturn at the end of the last decade. Two issues dominated the audience discussion: the possible increase in real estate taxes and the request by the school board for a funding increase over last year’s budget.
It was one of the very worst public meetings I've attended. Two older, retired persons in the audience worried about the impact of increased home assessments and tax rates; audience members representing the schools were belligerent and insulting to the point of bullying. “My kids deserve the best schools, so quit your whining and pay” was the gist of their attack. The school board member representing Lee District rolled her eyes, made faces, and played with her iPad during the county's budget presentation and the county supervisor's subsequent responses to questions.
It is clear that some parents and School Board members are passionate about the schools. I understand that. But there needs to be some minimum level of decency and respectfulness during this debate. Those who cry out, “Fully fund Fairfax County Schools,” need to stop and think. Over 70 percent of the taxpayers in Fairfax do not have kids in county schools. You are asking us to pay for your child’s education at the expense of other important services. Social workers in the mental health field, for example, are today handling caseloads of 50 clients or more. This is almost double the recommended norm. Clients must wait up to three months for an intake interview and up to six weeks after that for treatment. These are some of the trade-offs you are asking taxpayers to make. You need to convince us that the school programs are more important than taking care of those with disorders of the brain, law enforcement, fire emergencies, the list goes on and on. Insults and threats do not convince.! It is also not a good example for those very children about whom you care. I left the meeting angry at and ashamed of my fellow citizens ... and much less assured about the abilities of those managing my county schools.