FCPS Will Study Bus Routes, Put Savings Toward Later HS School Start Times

FCPS Superintendent Karen GarzaFairfax County Public Schools is planning to put aside money to help high schools start later in Fiscal Year 2015.

When FCPS adopted its $2.5 billion FY 2015 Advertised Budget on Friday — a record amount that includes a net increase of 2.4 percent, or $59.4 million, from the FY 2014 Approved Budget — the school board also passed a motion for Superintendent Karen Garza to identify savings from the annual bus route review.

The money saved, possibly from condensing some transportation routes, would be earmarked to offset costs of implementing a later start time, FCPS said in a news release.

Parents have been advocating for later start times for Fairfax County high schools for several years. Fairfax County high schools begin at 7:20 a.m. — which means some students are on the bus as early as 5:45 a.m. The local advocacy group Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal (SLEEP) has been very vocal, saying that 72 out of 95 Virginia counties now start at high school 8 a.m. or later.

The FCPS School Board, after hearing commissioned study results from Children’s National Medical Center, said last month that more time was needed to study the sleep issue and that it won’t likely be implemented in 2014-15.

As for the rest of the budget, it will now go before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the public for discussion and changes before being approved in May.

“This is a responsible, needs-based budget that addresses rising enrollment while protecting programs for our students,” said Fairfax County School Board Chair Ilryong Moon. “We are faced with an increase in health insurance rates and we are required to fund an increase in the required contributions to the Virginia Retirement System. Superintendent Garza and members of the Board spent many hours working with stakeholders to develop this budget, which uses a shared approach of reducing expenditures along with requesting additional revenue.”

The budget includes reductions of $96.5 million. Garza said last month that she hoped most of the staff reductions would come through attrition, but she could not rule out layoffs.

The school system will also request an additional $98.1 million from Fairfax County to to offset the growing expenses.

Since FY 2010, student enrollment has grown by 15,603 students and is projected to reach 187,994 students for FY 2015. The projected enrollment growth for next year, and the changing demographics associated with it, will require an additional $25.8 million in school-based resources, FCPS said.

Increases in retirement rate costs are estimated to be $38.9 million and increases in health insurance rates are estimated to be $23.9 million. The FY 2015 Advertised Budget also includes a step increase for eligible employees.

“Retention of our outstanding employees must be a top priority. Employees have only received one step increase in the past five years and FCPS is losing ground competitively with our neighboring jurisdictions. Therefore, we must give our employees a step increase,” says Garza.

FCPS is encouraging county residents to participate in the budget process by attending an upcoming public hearing, work session, or school board meeting. Complete information is available on FCPS’ website.

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