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December 6, 2014

Report on FCPS Listening Session

To the FCTA board members:

I attended a FCPS Listening Session at the Hunters Woods Elementary School in Reston given by Dr. Karen Garza, School Superintendent. Most of the School Board members attended this meeting, which lasted for two hours. This was considered a Region 1 listening session. Other sessions will be conducted throughout the county by each school region. Also Supervisor Cathy Hudgins and Senator Janet Howell were in attendance. Dr. Garza mentioned that this was the first time she has seen a State Senator show up at any of these sessions.

The purpose of this meeting was to listen to Dr. Garza for about 30 minutes and then allow questions from the audience. I estimated that more than 30 people spoke on various issues. This was a massive turnout. I estimated that about 200 people attended this session made up mostly of parents, teachers, and a few students all from Region 1.

Dr. Garza presented a dismal fiscal picture of the FCPS. She mentioned that the school system has grown about 20,000 in the last 6 years and that 88.8% of the budget is personnel costs. She said that $37 million went to VRS to bring the percentage up from 70 to 80%. They will be forced to pay even more into VRS as it has been underfunded for a number of years. She stated that the FCPS student population keeps growing to now around 187,000 students. In this current FY 15, Special Education has grown dramatically to about 26,000 students. Many of these kids do not comprehend ENGLISH and some don't even speak ENGLISH. Special Education makes up almost 14% of the FCPS budget. Next is English for Speakers of Other Languages also known as ESOL and has about 32,000 students or about 17% of the budget. Another item that has dramatically grown is Free or Reduced Price Meals has increased to almost 53,000 students and this amounts to over 28% of the budget. (Remember that the FCPS budget is around $2.5 BILLION.) She stated that these costs are running up the budget. Of course Special Education and ESOL require more teachers that, in turn, increases personnel and fringe benefit costs! Naturally, she did NOT mention how many students of ILLEGAL ALIENS are costing the FCPS!

She also spoke about teachers’ salaries, overall, are among the lowest in this area. She mentioned that Arlington County pays their teachers more than Fairfax County. She would like to see the teachers' salaries more in line with other jurisdictions.

Next, speakers were allowed to speak for less than 5 minutes each and we had over 30 speakers -- Dr. Garza cut it off at that point. I mentioned that she talked about low salaries but fails to mention the generous fringe benefits that the FCPS has. Some teachers complained about the excessive administrative work they have to contend with in addition to their regular job of teaching and grading papers and tutoring kids after class. Some parents mentioned bullying which they consider a major problem especially cyber-bullying. Some parents mentioned excessive homework given to students. The BIGGEST COMPLAINTS by many parents is the excessive class sizes especially in the elementary schools. One elementary school teacher stated that she has 36 students in her class which she said was an all time record! A few parents mentioned lack of attention paid to autism and dyslexic children. One parent said that the school is not doing a good job recognizing autism and dyslexic children. A few teachers stated that they have had no pay increases last year and low salaries compared to Arlington County.

Chuck McAndrew, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance board member