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FCPS Asks Citizens to Try Online Tool to Help with $80M Budget Gap

by Karen Goff — September 10, 2015 at 3:00 pm 30 Comments

What would you do if you were in charge of closing a projected $80 million deficit for Fairfax County Public Schools?

FCPS is inviting citizens to log into a its new budget proposal tool, which went live on Wednesday. Citizens can slash and protect programs and positions in a scenario that looks at a $50 million deficit for FCPS or a $75 million deficit. FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza says all suggestions will go to the Budget Task Force.

The budget software was used by Arlington Public Schools and given to FCPS for free, school board At-Large member Ryan McElveen said.

What seems like a number-focused video game is quite real, however. Garza came to South Lakes High School Wednesday night for a community meeting about the projected shortfall for the 2017 Fiscal Year, how the budget gap happened — though it is down from a projected $100 million — and why citizens need to take it seriously.

FCPS Superintenent Karen Garza speaking at SLHS “We have cut almost a half-billion since 2008,” said Garza. “2017 is likely to be one of our most challenging budget years yet. There are going to be very, very difficult decisions to make.”

The FCPS Budget Task Force spent the summer looking at all possibilities — from increasing class size (which has already happened three times in recent years) to charging for AP/IB tests and sports participation to reducing athletic and arts programs to going to a six-period (instead of seven) high school day.

Even all-day kindergarten, which was a gradually implemented and hard-fought addition for FCPS in recent years, is on the task force menu. Going back to half days would save $39 million.

There was no discussion about specific program cuts on Wednesday. There will be a series of town hall-type meetings later this fall, said Garza.

The Superintendent says most of the gap is “out of our control.” Increasing enrollment, increasing need for special programs such as English as a Second Language, increased health care costs, raises for staff and contributions to the state retirement fund are among the top cost drivers, she said.

FCPS gets about 70 percent of its $2.6 billion (2016) budget from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who has said to expect about a 3 percent increase for 2017, said Garza.  Without knowing the state contributions or other exact funding numbers, the county deficit alone will be about $55 million, she said.

For 2017, FCPS would like to give incremental step raises and a 1.5 percent cost-of-living raise to teachers. The school system will likely increase by 2,300 students, said Garza.

FCPS reps also showed a video (attached to this post) putting the deficit in simple terms.

Hunter Mill School Board Member Pat Hynes, who serves as school board chair, says everyone should take the shortfall seriously.

“We are now looking at a projected $80 million gap,” she said. “But I cannot support another budget that freezes pay or increases class size. It is early in the process, but we need to know what the shortfall will be and how to make it up. We are taking a lot guesses on the state and Board of Supervisors contributions.”

South Lakes PTSA President Andy Sigle said he thinks the revenue side of FCPS should get together with the spending side much earlier in the process.

“To me, it is a holistic issue,” he said. “Not the school board looking strictly at expense and the Board of Supervisors looking strictly at revenue.”

For parents and students in attendance at Wednesday’s meetings, things are much more personal. There were band parents, sports parents, IB Diploma candidates listening and gearing up for a fight to surely come this fall.

Jenna Day has four kids in the Oakton pyramid who are in music programs. She was at the meeting wearing an “All About Strings” T-shirt (she also owns a violin store in Chantilly).

“Creativity in our children is going down the tubes,” she said. “It is so important for children in middle school and high school to have a peer group. Not every kid is athletic. To be honest, if they cut music programs I will probably homeschool my children.”

  • Mary Cavanaugh

    Cut the over inflated salaries of all the Fairfax County School Board Members that voted Yes to Policy 1450! Our tax dollars have been squandered and mismanaged long enough!

  • Ming the Merciless

    Do we get a beer mug with our pledge — or better yet, just beer?

    I notice that in that tool, “teacher salaries and benefits” are not things that we can cut. Yet that would solve the “budget deficit” in a jiffy.

  • Raise my taxes please

    I could not make the meeting last night, but was raising property taxes brought up? Our property taxes in FFCo are lower than our neighboring counties.

    • Karen Goff

      It was not. But that is something to bring up with the Board of Supervisors anyway.

      • Mike M

        Ahem.

      • Mike M

        You suppressed my input.

        • JohnGalt_Inventor

          Karen always does that. If you call her out on stuff, or Ken Plum she just deletes your comments. Don’t worry – she’ll lock the thread down soon enough

    • Ming the Merciless

      Nothing stops you from sending a check directly to FCPS if you want to pay more!

      • TBex

        It actually only works if everyone does it. That’s why it’s taxes and not tuition.

        • Ming the Merciless

          Nope. Anyone who wants to pay additional taxes is perfectly free to do so, and it certainly helps FCPS when they do so.

          Since he said “raise my taxes please” (not raise our taxes or everybody’s taxes) he is obviously ready, willing, and able to pay more… so he should do that!

          • Fixed that for you Ming

            Ok…Raise OUR taxes. Yes I’m willing to pay more in taxes to fully fund what is widely considered to be one of the best public school systems in the country. You should be too. The benefits of the good school system are shared by everyone, including people without children in the system.

          • Greg

            But, it’s not true. “…what is widely considered to be one of the best public school systems in the country.”

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairfax_County_Public_Schools

            TJ maybe, but the rest? Not even close.

  • Mike M

    One of the problems is the siloing of the School Budget from the County BoS. The BoS sets the policies that make FFX a magnet for non-English speaking poor. The rise in that population means that to accomodate them with the same standards plus the special language needs will cost fewer and fewer of us much, much more. There is really no limit to it. The policies need to be accountable to resources just as the standards are accountable to realities. We cannot afford to gift anyone who gets here with a world class education. Sorry. Simple reality. Let’s acknowledge it and then deal with it. I propose immediate end to sanctuary. I propose that we do not commit to paying the way of people who are not legal. If they don’t speak English and they are legal, then don’t commit to the same standards for them. Language is prettty fundamental. There are costs associated with the current policies other than financial. I am told the Spanish speaking population is a student body unto itself.

  • Henry Rearden

    Cut ESL funding and Special Education funding and the problem goes away.

    • TBex

      What should we do with children who have special needs or don’t speak English that well? Post-birth abort them?

      • susie

        Special Ed has become big business – anybody wonder why there are so many special ed students these days? As for those who don’t speak English – learn it on your own dime.

      • Henry Rearden

        The anchor babies that have parents that have zero desire to assimilate, they can learn English on their own dime. And Special Needs should not be tied to the education system, when it’s evident that for many it’s state sponsored daycare

  • Greg

    How many (millions of) dollars did the tool cost? And the cost of these meetings?

    • Karen Goff

      It was given to FCPS at no cost from Arlington County. I added that into the story.

  • TBex

    Let’s all move to Loudoun and Arlington and leave the poors in Fairfax like they did to DC in the 60s and 70s. That worked really well for everyone who was allowed to get mortgages.

    • Ming the Merciless

      “Allowed” to get a mortgage? You mean “everyone who qualified for a mortgage on the basis of credit history and income”? Because they didn’t give loans to the unqualified back in those prehistoric days when banks believed in responsible lending, i.e., to people who might actually pay them back.

      Personally I think it does work pretty well when people are allowed to live where they want to and can afford to. On the other hand, when the government starts subsidizing people to live where they could not otherwise afford to live, the result is an unmitigated disaster.

      • TBex

        You’re stupid and I don’t like you. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortgage_discrimination

        • Ming the Merciless

          Ming is totally untroubled by banks “discriminating” against people who are unlikely to pay based on their income and credit history. This is exactly what banks should do.

          Ming is equally untroubled by your dislike.

          (Oooooh, he doesn’t like me….)

          • Dan

            Sure – cut salaries for teachers…and watch the exodus that has already begun accelerate. Want to have ” fresh new teachers” who are likely to leave soon ( more than 50% leave in the first 5 years) teaching the kids? Go for it! Your property taxes will fall as your property value plummets ( ever notice that school info features prominently in real estate listings?).
            Spend the money up front to recruit and retain the best, or lose twice that much on the back end. It is just like any other business, invest or fail.

          • susie

            The FCPS mob have already raided as much as the salary pot will bare. Morale is horrible and teachers are beginning to make noise. Now the godmother Garza is threatening to take away sports, the arts, etc if you people don’t pay up!

            End mass illegal immigration and clean up the waste at the top and the FCPS will eliminate the “devastating shortfall”.

          • Ming the Merciless

            There are more than ten applicants for every teaching position, so any exodus can quickly be replaced. Anyone who wants to quit – see ya later, have fun getting a comparable job in the private sector. You’ll find the raises and job security there a LOT less exciting, I promise you.

            The “goodness” of the schools depends not on the teachers but on the students. You could swap the teachers from the best school in the county and the worst school, and it wouldn’t affect performance in either school. Therefore property values will not plummet if teachers start leaving, because the same students will be there with the new teachers.

            We don’t need to retain “the best” in FCPS. All we need is “good enough”. Which is what we have. Pouring additional money into the system will not pay off.

          • Sally Forth

            Your ignorance is astonishing.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Truth hurts eh?

  • Judy Hannan Weischedel

    Eliminate ESOL. Many churches offer free language instruction. This cost will only continue to increase as our population tends toward “minority majority”.

  • Mike M

    You are what makes it require approval.
    Me too. My comment was deemed not worthy.

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