Reston, VA

Superintendent Karen Garza/FCPSEliminate Advanced Academic Centers, elementary band and strings programs and speech therapists; go back to mini-Mondays; charge tuition for language immersion programs; and cut back the number of custodians and make kids clean the school.

Those are just a few of the dozens of citizen ideas on how Fairfax County Public Schools can save money.

The school system, which serves more than 180,000 students, put out the call for cost-saving ideas to residents last week.

Superintendent Karen Garza says FCPS will have a deficit of more than $100 million by 2016-17 if drastic measures are not taken.

“Without additional funding, FCPS will need to have some difficult and emotional conversations with the community to determine which programs to eliminate,” FCPS says. “If revenues do not increase, to balance the budget FCPS may have to eliminate and/or redesign programs and services for the 2016-17 school year.”

“These reductions may affect all academic programming, including limiting elective choices, reducing career and technical programs, impacting advanced offerings, and raising class sizes at all levels.”

The FCPS Board approved a $2.6 billion budget for 2015-16. The board still needed to cut $7 million from the budget in order to cover such items as earlier high school start times (going into effect in the fall), the expense of full-day Mondays for elementary schools, and staff pay increases.

In 2014, the school system eliminated more than 700 staff positions as Garza said FCPS was facing a $130 million deficit for 2015.

In addition to resident suggestions, FCPS is establishing a Budget Task Force, comprised of community and employee stakeholders to advise Garza in developing the FY 2017 budget.

FCPS says the Budget Task Force will be comprised of representatives identified by each School Board member; the Chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors; FCPS teacher, principal, and employee organizations; and community, business, and parent organizations.

The programs and services chosen to reduce, eliminate, or redesign would begin with the 2016-17 school year.

FCPS says it has made nearly $500 million in cuts since 2008. That includes the elimination of more than 2,100 positions while experiencing an enrollment growth of more than 22,000 students.

“It is not possible to maintain the level of excellence for which Fairfax County Public Schools is known when we are annually faced with making impactful cuts to the system,” Garza said in a statement. “While we have tried hard to protect the classroom to the fullest extent possible, we now have no choice but to consider cutting student programs and services.”

The Task Force will work this summer and make recommendations to the superintendent this fall for the completion of the Proposed Budget by the Superintendent in December.

The Task Force will be asked to prioritize items for reduction in scenarios of a $50 million deficit, a $75 million deficit, and a $100 million deficit.

The school system says many of the cost drivers for 2016-17 are “items outside of FCPS’ control, like retirement and enrollment increases, and providing competitive compensation for our teachers. FCPS the cost drivers include:

  • a growing student population with diverse needs.
  • increased state-required retirement contributions rates.
  • increased health insurance costs.
  • increased compensation for teachers.

FCPS also says the funding transfer from the Fairfax County government and money from the state are not keeping pace with the system’s needs.

Karen Garza/file photo

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