To the Editor:
After reviewing Fairfax County’s proposed 4-percent meals tax, the Class Size Counts (CSC) board voted to support the Nov. 8 referendum because it decided that it would be better to raise money for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) through a tax on prepared foods rather than through additional increases to County property taxes.
The proposed tax on prepared foods is estimated to raise about $100 million per year. It would only apply to sales in areas of Fairfax County that do not already have their own meals taxes. About 28 percent of meals tax revenues would be paid by people who do not live in Fairfax County.
If the meals tax passes, the County’s annual transfer of funds to FCPS will include 70 percent of the meals tax proceeds, or approximately $70 million. Presumably, Supervisors take these meals tax revenues into account in determining how to allocate the County's property tax and other revenues. However, the meals tax would serve to diversify the sources of County funds.
“I think we should have faith that the Board of Supervisors will do the right thing and transfer the full $70 million to the schools as promised, and also, we have good reason to believe that the school system would use the money to reduce class sizes and increase teacher salaries – two of the biggest issues currently plaguing the school system,” said Mike Wasserman, father of two FCPS students.
Reasonable class sizes are also a key component in teacher retention, since very large classes cause burnout. Many of our seasoned teachers are leaving the workforce, citing large class sizes as one of the top factors in their departure. According to one elementary school Principal, this fall, FCPS had more than 80 elementary classroom teacher vacancies that went unfilled for weeks, which made it a challenge for Principals to find experienced, long-term substitute teachers. Last year, more than 200 FCPS classroom teacher positions were unfilled at one point, demonstrating the need for qualified, long-term substitute teachers.
Given all the time that students spend with substitute teachers, CSC also hopes that FCPS will allocate more of its budget to restore the pay supplement for retired teachers who serve as long-term substitute teachers. As Dave Thomas, past board member of the Fairfax Education Association explained, “retired teachers can provide a seamless continuation of instruction" when the regular teacher is on leave, especially when principals are struggling to fill long-term substitute teacher positions.
There aren’t a whole lot of alternatives - voters have a choice between additional property taxes or a meals tax. Given this choice, CSC board believes that the meals tax would be the better option, and strongly encourages FCPS to allocate funds from the County's transfer in FY 2018 to reduce overcrowded classes and increase teacher salaries.
Communications Director, CSC