To the Editor,
Mary Kimm’s editorial and Mr. Tillet’s letter to the editor correctly attribute the school budget shortfall to the State Legislature’s chronic under-funding, shifting obligations to the county, and surging higher needs populations (English language learners, children living in poverty or requiring special education services). Mount Vernon residents are keenly aware of these challenges.
Our school populations mirror the economically and socially diverse nature of our community. Nineteen schools exceed 20 percent free and reduced meals, 16 exceed 20 percent English language learners, and 15 exceed 20 percent in both categories. Ten schools special education populations greater than 15 percent. Unlike the state, the county recognized poverty and English language learners when they developed the needs based staffing formula. These programs have proven successful. Next week, the state is expected to officially announce that five of our schools, previously labeled accredited with warning are now fully accredited. More work must be done.
I urge decision makers to see the faces of our community’s children and the impact cuts will have on their ability to achieve their potential. We cannot continue to cut our way to excellence.
To accommodate the projected shortfall, FCPS is considering cutting the signature programs (academic programming, arts and athletics) that placed Fairfax County at the top of the list of U.S. school systems. Possible cuts to needs based staffing, the elimination of non-special education pre-school, summer school for elementary and middle schools could have detrimental effects on the progress realized in serving our high needs populations and reverse the trend towards full accreditation for all of our schools.
The seventh period in secondary school provides students the opportunity to explore electives in the arts, sciences and careers. Electives enable students to explore their passion, gain experiences, identify possible careers and often keep students engaged in learning. The elimination of these programs would disproportionately impact communities that are not able to self-fund. Today, our PTAs and Booster organizations subsidize after-school buses, enrichment activities, professional development and even a science resource teacher at Hollin Meadows.
Continuous program cuts are forcing families and teachers to leave the public school system. Many of our students are being taught by long-term substitutes in overcrowded classrooms.
Challenging times require policy makers to work across party, organizational and jurisdictional lines to restore funding, and developing innovative solutions to ensure each of our schools is an academic center of excellence, e.g. increasing community and business partnerships, exploring approaches to sharing resources (either on-line or remote access classrooms), developing more opportunities for dual enrollment, early college, experiential learning, and leveraging the natural resources of Fairfax County (historical residences, proximity to the nation’s capital, military bases and healthcare systems).
Together we can solve these issues.
Karen Corbett Sanders
The writer is a School Board candidate for the Mount Vernon district.