Each year, the school board pinpoints a number of important education issues it plans to advocate for in regards to state legislation. For 2017, officials said that they are honing in on a few key issues that they want to focus on when advocating for Fairfax County families with school-age children.
When it comes to funding, school board members said they would like Virginia to allocate previously promised money for teacher salary increases — funding that was taken away earlier this year due to state budget shortfalls.
“Reinstating state funding for teacher salary increases would bring an additional $12 million over the biennium in state funds back to Fairfax,” said school board member Ryan McElveen, who serves as the county’s state legislative liaison.
One of the larger positions the school board plans to take in 2017 is that local school boards should receive more flexibility and autonomy when it comes to designing instructional programs, including how many tests students have to take each year.
School board members said they plan to advocate for what they call “multiple paths to graduation.” Specifically, they said they would like to provide students with more opportunities “to explore their career interests” in preparation for secondary education.
School board members also said they plan to advocate for fewer state-mandated tests and evaluations required of students, to ensure “a balanced assessment system that helps to inform instruction.”
The Fairfax County School Board’s full report on its 2017 legislative priorities is here.
Fairfax County Public Schools officials were at South Lakes High School Tuesday to discuss with the community plans for changing high school start times.
What they found there was mostly enthusiastic support, with some criticism. Most in attendance welcome the changes.
“We are unanimously for the later start times.” said Jennifer Boysko, whose daughters have gone through Herndon High. “We all have high schoolers who have suffered. I believe getting sleep is most important.”
After a 2012 decision committing to changing high school start times, FCPS paid experts at Children’s National Medical Center more than $100,000 to study the impact on lack of sleep among teens and formulate scenarios for bell changes.
FCPS high schools currently begin at 7:20 a.m. The proposals all have high school starting between 8 and 9:15 a.m., with various bell changes to elementary and middle schools as well. See all four proposals in detail on the FCPS website.
The proposals will cost between $2.7 million and $7.6 million to implement, mostly to purchase new buses. Last week, the FCPS school board approved the 2015 budget, but received less than expected from the county board of supervisors, had to make $97 million in cuts, and will offer employees delayed step raises.
Some parents at the SLHS meeting said they fear that existing programs will be cut in order to pay for the new arrangement.
“Money is being wasted,” said one mother of two high schoolers. “Teachers are not being paid. Classes are getting bigger. And these proposals will cost more money.”
At-large school board member Ryan McElveen said the FCPS budget for 2016 will include a 3 percent increase (about $60 million), part of which will cover the additional transportation costs.
“We have been talking about this for two decades,” he said. “Personally, I am tired of talking about it. It is time to find a solution that does not cost too much.”
While there will likely be adjustments to field and facility use, McElveen said the board is committed to keeping extracurriculars such as sports, arts and music.
What won’t happen: no change at all, said McElveen. There will be bell changes beginning in 2015-16, he said.
But that news also irritated some at the meeting, who said the county is making decisions first and gathering public opinion later.
“What has not been taken into account is that half my caseload need to [go to] work after school,” said one high school counselor. “They are not taking into account the demographics of different schools. [Employees] will now be getting out at rush hour. I live in Montgomery County. It will take me 90 minutes to get home. I should go work in Montgomery County.”
Before the community members split up into small discussion groups, they heard from Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center and one of the consultants that worked on the FCPS report.
Owens said teens’ sleep habits are “in direct conflict with high school start times.” She cited stats that said chronic sleepiness impacts school performance and mood, and contributes to sports-related injuries, obesity and poor impulse control. To see a full report from CNMC, visit Project Smart Sleep.
“Delaying school start times is one of most important ways to help ensure adolescents are getting enough sleep,” she said, adding that students who start school after 8 a.m. are less likely to be depressed, get better grades, score as much as 200 points higher on the SATs and may have higher future earnings.
That was good news to many of the parents at the meeting, which was a full house at SLHS. Most of the tables working as a focus group said they were pleased the board wanted to move forward with the time changes.
They said they were most supportive of Option No. 4, which starts high school at 9:15 am., middle schools at 8:20-8:30 a.m. and elementary schools from 7:40 to 9:15 a.m. That option is also the cheapest, at $2.75 million.
There will be several more community meetings on this subject through June. The school board hopes to endorse a plan by the fall, which would give parents, day care providers and sports leagues almost a year to plan for the changes.
By any measurement, it has been a rough winter in Fairfax County, with the most snow days taken since the “snowpocalypse” season of 2009-10.
To make up snow days, FCPS students have already given up Presidents Day and will attend school on April 7, a scheduled teacher workday.
According to the school year calendar, two of the snow days will be added to the end of the school year (June 23 and 24), though the school board must formally adopt the plan.
The good news? If Tuesday is a snow day, that one gets a free pass and won’t have to be made up. But if there are 11 or more this season, those days will also be added to the end of the year or possibly added in as extra time in the school day, says FCPS calendar info.
Virginia law requires public schools to provide at least 180 days or 990 hours of instructional time annually. But it also allows the state Board of Education to waive the requirement if districts shut down in the aftermath of a state of emergency declared by the governor.
Monday’s snowstorm was a state of emergency in the commonwealth. The snowstorm in mid-February was also a statewide state of emergency.
School board at-large member Ryan McElveen says a waiver request will likely be in the works.
“The school board hasn’t formally talked about requesting a waiver yet, but I think it would be wise to do so,” he said on Monday. ” I’m sure we’ll have that discussion in the coming weeks. Both this storm and the previous storm were ‘states of emergency,’ so these days could all be considered for the waiver.”
FCPS was last granted a waiver from the requirement in 2010 following the nearly two-feet of snow that fell in back-to-back February storms. The district needed to schedule five make-up days, but only found time for four in the spring calendar. The board waived the requirement for the fifth make up day.