To the Editor:
Our teachers are bringing home less money in their paychecks today than they did in 2010. Seventy percent of teachers at McLean High School need to have second jobs to make ends meet. We’ve cut our county school support staff to student ratio levels to 50 percent lower than any other school district in the metro area. Fairfax County gets $1,855 per pupil from state aid while other school districts in the state get on average $3,420 per pupil due to an antiquated state allocation calculation. And, we continue to look for ways to cut costs in the school operating budget.
Even if the Board of Supervisors votes to give Fairfax County Public Schools the full budget request, which more than likely won’t happen because there simply isn’t enough money in the county budget to do so, we will still need to increase class sizes pushing some class sizes into 35-plus kids per class and further cut the number of both teachers and support employees.
This situation is unsustainable if the citizens of Fairfax County want to continue to have a school system that has long been considered a model in the country. If our schools decline due to the inability to attract and retain great teachers, crowded classroom and lack of first class programming for our students, we lose one of the biggest factors why businesses and their employees choose to locate in Fairfax County.
Our new school superintendent, Dr. Karen Garza, is looking for “out of the box” ways to make continual improvements in our schools’ abilities to produce great 21st century citizens. That work happens every day consistently and with fervor. But, many of these innovative changes will take years to implement; many will need to plow through the challenges imposed by state and federal regulations like the current largely ineffective Standards of Learning testing and No Child Left Behind legislation.
Our only current short-term solution to increase revenues for the county is in increasing real estate and personal property taxes. No one likes increased taxes, but in the short term, there appears to be no other solution. For a longer-term revenue solution, we should push to have a meals tax, like most of our neighboring communities have. In addition,
we should push to have our elected officials in Richmond revise the way they allocated State Aid for education, which currently takes Fairfax County citizen’s state taxes and reallocates them to other areas of the commonwealth.
My youngest is 16. Our family can persevere over her last two years in high school. However, for younger families with kids or citizens who value their attractive real estate values; pay attention now. Go to FCPS.edu to educate yourself on the budget and then communicate your views to your elected officials before Feb. 25, when the county executive advertises the county budget and subsequently the real estate tax rate is announced or one day you’ll be asking yourself “how in the world did things get this bad?”
Lastly, if you could read this letter, thank a teacher.
Wilma Cairns Bowers
McLean High School PTSA President