Board Moves Schools Budget Forward
In 7-5 vote, some members say request to supervisors reflects need, others say it's unrealistic
The Fairfax County School Board voted to approve a $2.4 billion fiscal year 2013 advertised budget at its meeting Thursday, forwarding a plan to supervisors that asks for $202.3 million more than last fiscal year to accommodate unprecedented student growth and the staff levels and compensation needed to address it.
The budget asks the supervisors for a transfer increase of $135.4 million, 8.4 percent more than it received last year. While some board members said the strategy allowed them to be upfront about the school system's priorities and needs, others called the approach backward and disrespectful of what supervisors had warned was realistic.
"This is an incremental budget. That’s one approach. I would advocate for a zero-based budget. Lets start from the bottom up, what's in the classroom and what's needed to support the classroom? This is a fundamentally different strategy and approach," said Patty Reed (Providence), who said she agreed with several of the amendments made to the budget but could not support it as a whole. "This is not a dance, this is not a game. This is about doing good business with our county’s dollars and with our partners on the Board of Supervisors."
"To my mind the tactic of asking high for fear of leaving money on the table has not had much success," added Ted Velkoff (At-large), who also voted against the budget, recalling flat transfers in the last several years. "By approving this budget I believe we fall short of our responsibility to govern. We neither offer expenditure reductions nor explain how expenditure increases would ultimately be funded. We risk raising false hopes among some stakeholders and leave the hard choices to the appropriating body ... I believe we may have a trust gap with the Board of Supervisors and arguably with the public."
After hearing five members speak against the budget proposal, Budget Chair Ilryong Moon (At-large) said he had not seen any meaningful discussion or motions addressing a reduction to the transfer before Thursday night, and without an amendment to work with "there's nothing to discuss."
"There hasn't been anything to let me see what they're really thinking — how will you reduce the budget?" Moon said. "Talk is cheap. Everyone talks about fairly compensating employees but where will it come from?"
Dan Storck (Mount Vernon) spoke in support of the budget proposal, saying it is important for the school board to convey its priorities to both the public and the Board of Supervisors.
"Part of the transparency issue is that we need to make sure people understand things we don’t feel were adequately addressed in the superintendent's budget or even things that are in here that we want to highlight because we think it's important for the community to understand," Storck said.
The board added eight amendments to the plan Superintendent Jack Dale presented in January, which focused largely on increasing teacher compensation, better managing teacher workload and reducing classroom sizes.
The amendments passed Thursday covered a range of goals and priorities, from finding $600,000 to create ombudsman and auditor positions and adding school board support staff to eliminating athletic fees — a cost of $1.7 million — and funding an estimated $200,000 consultant study of ways to make FCPS school food healthier.
Other amendments included:
- Requiring an evaluation and teacher survey of the eCART system before the system's previously planned expansion of the program
- Adding 20 field custodian positions at a cost of $1 million
- Providing $0.1 million to revise and reproduce the Parent Advocacy Handbook
- Providing funding of $19,590 to record (audio and video) all school board work sessions of the full board, including forums
- Providing funding of $0.1 million for a best practices study to increase early literacy skills and kindergarten readiness for all children
Together, the amendments did not increase the transfer request to the supervisors, board members said. For a look at full amendment language and funding source information, click here.
A motion by Kathy Smith (Sully) to vote on each amendment separately failed, which she said was a transparency issue and unfair to taxpayers who have not heard full discussions from board members on their positions.
"We’re telling the superintendent to cut [what we need for these amendments] and can we really sit here and say we think he can find a way to do it that’s not going to affect student achievement and support to schools?" Smith said. "I will not make that decision now because it’s not an informed decision. A lot of people say this doesn’t really matter right now, we’re going to have to make cuts, we're putting out markers about what we believe in, but what this board member believes in is putting support in our teachers and supporting our students and not expanding things we can do ... We have to be careful about what markers we put out and what we don't."
The board has a joint retreat with the supervisors at 10 a.m. Feb. 25, three days before County Executive Anthony Griffith unveils the county's fiscal year 2013 budget.
There will be "many more discussions" among school board members and between the two governing bodies before the county votes on its budget and schools transfer May 1, and the school board finalizes a budget of its own May 24, board chair Janie Strauss (Dranesville) said.
Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said members who voted against the budget "care just as deeply" about their teachers, schools and children; their position didn't indicate a lack of support of the system's needs, he said.
"Sometimes politics is not a perfect science," Greenburg said. "The budget that went through addresses the true needs of the school system, but there was a real voicing of being fiscally responsible and working with the supervisors and I think that's good politics in the long term."
"It's a part of making that relationship better," said Fairfax Education Association President Michael Hairston. "That's the start."