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Opinion: BOS Budget Falls Short for FCPS

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BOS) continues to state that education is its top priority but its actions clearly do not match its words -- not when county spending next year will increase by 3.6 percent while Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) budget is projected to increase by just 1.6 percent over last year’s adopted budget. Overall, FCPS will receive 52.4 percent of the county’s budget, down from 52.7 percent this year. While this percentage change seems small, that equates to more than $12 million that FCPS would have received.

In his April 22 newsletter to residents, Supervisor Pat Herrity makes several misleading assertions about the FCPS budget. He suggests that the School Board already has available funding to meet the school system’s needs, beyond the amount that will be transferred from the county and state. We would like to correct these misperceptions.

Supervisor Herrity suggests increasing the salary “lapse rate” (a salary lapse occurs during a job vacancy). FCPS’ budgeted lapse savings are based on historical trends. FCPS has taken several steps to adjust compensation accounts in the FY 2015 budget including using lower salaries to budget for vacant positions and for new positions due to enrollment growth. Whatever is remaining in the compensation accounts, combined with other savings generated throughout the year, goes into the ending balance which we use to fund the following year’s budget.

Supervisor Herrity suggests eliminating pay raises for administrators to save $13 million. The cost of providing a step increase for all employees is $41 million. Of that amount, the cost for the administrative positions in schools is $1.7 million and central administrators account for $300,000. To achieve his goal of $13 million in savings, pay raises would need to be denied to employees who directly serve students including advanced academic resource teachers, work experience teachers, instructional support teachers, school counselors, librarians, audiologists, physical and occupational therapists, English for Speakers of Other Languages teachers, professional technical project teachers, public health attendants, public health training assistants, school-based technologists, psychologists, social workers, school clerical, school custodial, and school administration.

Supervisor Herrity also claims that many of our teachers are doing administration instead of teaching. He states that if we “take the total number of students in the school system and divide it by the number of full time equivalent teachers (emphasis added), we should get a class size of 12.” As our class size is not as such, he alleges that our teachers must be doing administration. This canard has been raised before by Supervisor Herrity and it is irresponsible for him to continue to deliberately mislead the public by using deceitful teacher-student ratios in his comments. This doesn't result in purposeful conversation, but rather distracts the community from the real issue of fully funding schools. To clarify once again, “full time equivalent teachers” are much more than classroom teachers. They also include special education teachers, English for Speakers of Other Languages teachers, instructional coaches, speech therapists, guidance counselors, librarians, music, physical education teachers, and more. Although these professionals do not have assigned classrooms, they are all teaching and working directly with students. It takes more than a single classroom teacher to provide a well-rounded and full education for FCPS students.

Moving forward, it’s critical in budget discussions that disingenuous arguments are not used to refute or support one’s position. This should not be seen as a School Board versus Board of Supervisors debate. We are partners. The School Board will continue to work closely with the Supervisors in an effort to develop long-term sustainable funding for FCPS and to meet the expectations of the community to maintain our world-class school system.