-- Arthur Purves & Tim Hannigan, March 29, 2016
As FCTA board members, we attended the FCPS "listening tour" at the James Madison High School in Vienna. They said it was the best-attended tour event so far; about 100 people. Some of the proceedings follow:
Region 1 Assistant Superintendent Douglas Tyson provided an overview of news and activities in the elementary, middle, and high schools in FCPS Region 1. He highlighted the schools' culture of "academic, social, and emotional well-being" and emphasized the schools are about "relationships" among students, teachers, and parents. He also stressed the importance of "feeding the hungry", pointing out Herndon schools had opened during "Snowzilla" just to feed students on the free breakfast/lunch program.
FCPS Superintendent Dr. Karen Garza made a number of comments before, during, and after the question/comment period, including:
She is proud of FCPS's strategic plan and portrait of a graduate. "The state" is using the latter as an example for use by other school systems. (Recall, the FCPS mission statement in strategic plan states: Fairfax County Public Schools inspires and empowers students to ... be responsible and innovative "global citizens" [emphasis added]).
Per her usual monologue: The FCPS budget has been cut by $500M and 2000 positions since 2008.
FCPS has experienced budget cuts every year since 2008, explaining (somewhat mysteriously) that FCPS has received increased more funding but its expenses have gone up. (Somewhat predictably, Dr. Garza only mentioned health care as one of the "expenses" that are outpacing funding increases. And, of course, she in no way tried to counter the data that Arthur presented. Indeed, she pretty much ignored Arthur's comments [see below].)
The FCPS budget request is not "needs based". It would be higher if that were the case.
Based on market comparables, FCPS teacher compensation is below market. Only teacher salaries in Loudoun and Prince Georges counties are lower.
FCPS started this past school year with 200 vacancies.
The FCPS proposed budget focuses on improving teacher salaries and reducing class sizes.
Based on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors' indication it may only increase the Real Estate Tax Rate by 3 cents rather than the 6.75 cents requested by FCPS for the FY 2017 Budget, the school system will experience a $50 million shortfall (funding allocation vs. requested budget). If that occurs, FCPS will have to reduce teacher salaries or go with some of the budget cuts recommended by last summer/fall's Budget Task Force.
FCTA's Arthur Purves was among several speakers, and said that the budget had increased $400M instead of going down $500M and that positions had increased by 1000 instead of decreasing by 2000. He said that since FY2000 staff had increased faster than enrollment; salaries had increased four times faster than staff, and benefits had increased eight time faster than staff.
Arthur mentioned that to pay for this, real estate taxes would increase from $2400 in FY2000 to $6100 if the budget is approved. He said that FCPS has no stats on how many teachers left or where they went but he suggested that perhaps they are leaving due to the high property taxes needed to pay for raises and benefits for county and school employees.
Arthur suggested high-deductible health care, increase the retirement age, and use bonuses and merit pay to attract and retain the best teachers, because it is too expensive to pay all employees the premium salaries needed to retain the best employees.
Steve Greenberg, President of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers and third grade teacher in FCPS, bemoaned the "chronically underfunded" school system. He encouraged attendees to support a meals tax as a way to get more revenue for FCPS. (FYI, at a Braddock District Budget Town Hall Meeting on Monday evening, some attendees, Ed Long (County Executive), and Supervisor John Cook voiced varying degrees of support for a meals tax. Standby for the meals tax to rear its ugly head again this year.)
-- Email comments posted by David Swink, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance