I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as the chairman of Fairfax County School Board for the 2014-15 school year. My colleagues on the board and I – working closely with our superintendent, Dr. Karen Garza – have an ambitious agenda for the year ahead. Our top priority remains adequate funding for our schools at both the state and county levels. State support for education remains at unacceptable levels and we will continue to work with our county Board of Supervisors to provide our schools with an adequate level of financial support when the state fails to do its job. As a consensus builder, I will continue to urge the School Board to work in partnership with the Board of Supervisors to find solutions to our budget dilemma.
We have already taken steps to build a stronger relationship with the Board of Supervisors. This past year, Dr. Garza provided a new level of transparency in the budget process by meeting with the Board of Supervisors and other community leaders, conducting listening tours in each of the magisterial districts, and developing the Citizens Guide to Understanding the Budget, all of which were well received by the supervisors and the community. Our boards have already met jointly in September to outline our fiscal forecasts. In addition, we have established the Joint Budget Development Committee composed of three supervisors and three School Board members. The committee will review budget factors impacting Fiscal Year 2016 and provide guidance to both boards. The committee will deliver a report to both boards before the County Executive presents his Advertised Budget and before the superintendent presents her Proposed Budget in early 2015. Last year, the county and School Board created the joint Infrastructure Financing Committee to review the facilities needs of both FCPS and the county. The committee report released earlier this year resulted in an additional $13 million that will be invested each year beginning in FY 2016 for school infrastructure upgrades. I will continue to encourage this kind of collaboration to build trust and realistic expectations for the supervisors, the school board, and the community.
In the next few weeks we plan to make a final decision regarding school start times for the 2015-16 school year. Superintendent Garza made her recommendation to the board at a meeting in early September. We will provide the community with sufficient time to comment on the proposal before we take final action at our Oct. 23 meeting. As you may recall, the School Board adopted a resolution in April 2012 with the stated goal to start high schools after 8 a.m. The board subsequently hired Children’s National Medical Center to serve as consultants to develop a plan to achieve that goal. CNMC developed four options. Those options were taken to the community in a series of eight public meetings held in May and June. After analyzing the feedback from parents and the community, CNMC made their recommendation and, based on school board direction, Option 3 is the framework being used to develop a final recommendation for school board consideration. I invite you to learn more at www.fcps.edu.
Other new initiatives include the FCPS Portrait of a Graduate, which will serve as a foundation on which to build a long-range strategic plan for FCPS. Once a strategic plan is in place with a direct and clear vision for our schools, our work will be very focused and the outcome will be improved student achievement for every student.
We have had great success with our launch of full day Mondays for our elementary students. The community is very supportive of the change which will increase instructional time for students and dedicated planning time for teachers. Beginning this school year, we also have a new standard school calendar in place that eliminates the need to make up inclement weather days at the end of the school year, if fewer than 13 days are missed.
The Bailey’s Upper Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences opened Sept. 2 with a community ribbon-cutting celebration scheduled for Oct. 15. This new school was converted from a five-story office building on Leesburg Pike and will solve the overcrowding problems that have plagued Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences. Under the leadership of one principal, the new campus houses grades 3-5 while the existing campus remains home to preschoolers through second graders.
The start of a new school year is always an exciting time for students, parents and teachers. As chairman, I pledge to maintain and build upon the excellence for which our schools are known. Working with our state elected officials, supervisors, superintendent and other stakeholders, I am confident that we can solve our most pressing problems while continuing to offer a world-class education for our families. Have a safe and productive school year.