Garza: Budget Gap Means ‘We Cannot Fund Basic Needs of Our Community’

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Karen Garza said the system is doing its part to cut costs, and she implored the county Board of Supervisors to do theirs to increase funding.

“We’re really at the crossroads,” she said at a joint school board/board of supervisors meeting on Friday. “You are going to determine which path we go. We can continue to cut, to the point of where we no longer recognize our system, or do we begin the slow process of continuing to sustain excellence in our schools? We recognize that these are very difficult decisions, but we ask for your support.”

Garza’s proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget asks the county for an operating budget transfer of $1.9 billion (a 6.7 percent increase over 2016). County Executive Ed Long’s proposed budget includes a school operating transfer of $1.88 billion (a 3 percent, or $54.75 million, increase from 2016).

Long’s proposed $3.99 overall county budget comes with a suggested real estate tax increase of 4 cents per $100 of value, or about a $303 annual tax bill rise for the average Fairfax County homeowner.

The supervisors will advertise the county tax rate on Tuesday, which will be followed by public hearings on the matter in April. At last week’s meeting, Garza and several school board members urged the supervisors to consider an increase of more than 4 cents in order to adequately fund schools.

Garza pointed out that asking for just under $2 billion is frugal on the part of the schools. Were the schools system to get everything it needs — such as replacing aging textbooks and computers, as well as employee raises and reductions in classroom sizes —  it would take an extra $305 million, Garza said.

“FCPS has a tradition of excellence that continues despite the daunting challenges we face,” Garza told the supervisors. “FCPS’ reputation for excellence is forged through genuine community investment and together, we leverage our strengths to make a difference for every student. Our success as a system attracts businesses and people to our county and it strengthens the quality of life in our community.”

Garza said the budget gap of nearly $68 million means “we cannot even fund the basic needs of our system.”

Garza presented her proposed budget in January. After several months of warning about potential cuts to sports, music, Advanced Academics and other programs, the superintendent said no cuts would be made for 2016-17.

But that depends on full funding from the county.

“Further cuts would be required,” Garza said. “The county stated that additional significant program reductions will change the fabric of the county irrevocably and this is also true for FCPS. For both county and schools, we must begin to look ahead and recognize that investments are necessary to keep Fairfax strong.”

Garza reiterated the point that FCPS has made about $500 million in cuts and eliminated more than 2,000 jobs in the last eight years.

That left some supervisors skeptical. Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity said the school system is participating in deceptive “political theater” since the school system’s budget has actually grown by $500 million since then.

“How do you cut every year for nine years and go from a $2.1 billion budget to a $2.6 billon budget?” Herrity said.

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