FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza said in June that the school system — which serves more than 180,000 students — may face a deficit that large if drastic action is not taken.
“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 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 later high school start times (going into effect in the fall), the expense of full-day Mondays for elementary schools, and staff pay increases.
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.
The school system has organized a task force comprised of community members, teacher and school employees, among others, to brainstorm savings ideas.
It has also been asking residents for suggestions and to vote on other citizen suggestions.
Here are some of the hot topics on the FCPS “What Are Your Ideas?” web page. (Vote totals as of Thursday, July 30):
Keep the seven-period day at the secondary level (280 votes)
“Many students end up majoring in college subjects that are considered electives.
It will not save FCPS any money to go to a six-period day. It will mean the county has to hire more teachers to teach the classes mandated by the state.”
Keep all performing arts in schools (158 votes)
“Taking away performing arts programs is like taking away someones high school football dream. Not all kids can and or want to play sports, so why take away the one thing some kids enjoy doing. Taking away these programs takes away a part of someone’s life. This is all they know and love to do. Focus on the kids and how there life’s are impacted by such a powerful program. Think of the kids.”
Flip the discussion to increase revenue as opposed to decreasing services and staff (105 votes)
“Fairfax County FCPS funding is antiquated and has a limited reach due to being tied solely to property tax. That formula worked great during robust economic times but as we have seen, it has failed at the expense of our educational excellence to our students. WE CANNOT continue to ‘cut’ our way out of the financial short falls that are facing our schools! Some possible revenue generating ‘out of the box’ ideas are:
• Luxury hotel and restaurant tax that is only geared toward FCPS funding.
• A FCPS lottery ticket through the Virginia Lottery that is only geared toward FCPS funding.
• An option on income tax forms to donate to FCPS for county taxes that are only geared toward FCPS funding.
• Corporate sponsors for sporting fields and their maintained costs.”
Defer the pay increase to the school board members (91 votes)
“The school board voted to increase their pay while teachers are only getting a nominal increase. This is outrageous. The School Board should not accept their pay increase and add that money back to help balance the budget.”
Increase property taxes, better schools benefit everyone in the community (89 votes)
“$52 a year, which is $1 a [week] is definitely not a problem for us. We all benefit from having better schools. It maintains our property value, especially since this is such a transient area. We apprciate the value of FCPS and our kids truly benefit compared to other educational programs in the nation. … SAVE the QUALITY OF FCPS. We moved here for the schools.”
Not spend the additional $4.9M to change the school schedule (86 votes)
“Save $4.9M per year by not changing HS start times! If the FCPS is facing such a budget challenge, why are we spending $4.9 million for this change at this time? This is almost 5 percent of the shortfall that can be recouped by simply not changing!”
Stop implementing short-sighted new programs, put focus on effective teachers (76 votes)
“Fix what works — equip good teachers with planning time, confidence, and fair compensation. Flashy new programs and initiatives are not proven, but dedicated, knowledgeable, and caring staff members are. Invest in teacher quality by making FCPS schools attractive workplaces. Teachers are the bedrock FCPS. Students, leaders, and programs come and go, but quality teachers like to stay. Don’t drive good teachers away!”
Repeal the Kings Dominion Law (71 votes)
“AP exams are held on a NATIONAL test date. Our students/teachers are cramming for the test yet have weeks left of school with not much to study/learn once the test has been administered. Those last weeks are a waste of time and resources. Having school start 2-3 weeks later than the rest of the nation causes undue stress on the teachers, administrators, and mostly the students who are involved with AP classes. Not that this will save money, but it will help with the stress of our teachers/students/admins.”
Charge for Sports (73 votes)
“We pay $350 for marching band, and that is a required activity since our kid was in Symphonic band during school. … Don’t drop sports, but charge a fee. I would rather see fees for things that are optional than cutting the availability of the arts and electives in schools. HS is the time when kids begin discovering who they are and what they want to be.”
Have the building principals publish what they spent their budget on. (67 votes)
“Make the spending choices transparent. I have been in meetings where we are told to think of things to spend the money on, or else we will “lose it.” If we don’t need it, let’s save it. Our school spent money on all kinds of things that were silly or not used after paying out the money to start the program. If parents knew that $5,000 was spent on some reading testing program that was only used once, and was not needed, then maybe wiser heads would prevail.”
Eliminate or Scale Back IB (72 votes)
“FCPS currently has eight high schools with IB diploma programs, but most have very few IB diploma candidates and the per student costs associated with IB (IB coordinators at individual schools, test fees, payments to the IBO) are higher than the costs for AP.”
Eliminate Foreign Language Immersion Program (58 votes)
“In theory, the program sounds good, but when every dollar counts, it’s important to eliminate the programs that have low efficacy.”
To see more topics, to add your own or vote on others, visit the FCPS website.
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