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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

FCPS school board weighs options to address budget deficit

Next week, the Fairfax County school board will consider several options proposed by Superintendent Jack Dale to address a $3.5 million shortfall in the fiscal year 2012 FCPS budget.

School board work sessions on the budget are scheduled for May 16 and May 19. Public hearings will be held May 17 and 18. Anyone who wants to speak at the hearings can sign up online. The board will approved a final budget at its regular school board meeting on May 26.

Dale has presented the school board three options for balancing the budget:
  1. Redirect funds previously set aside under the Virginia Retirement System for 2013 and use them next year. This would be a one-time, short-term solution.
  2. Phase-in full-day kindergarten over two years—implementing it in 2012 in just 16 of the 36 schools that don’t have it—instead of doing it all in one year. (All of the elementary schools in the Mason District already have full-day kindergarten.)
  3. Reduce the previously proposed 2 percent market-scale salary increase for employees for 2012 to 1 percent and tack on a 1 percent bonus. That would save money because the bonus wouldn’t be counted toward retirement.
FCPS initially requested a $42 million increase in the funds transferred from the Board of Supervisors. The county initially rejected any increase for FCPS, but has now agreed to provide to the school system the savings in the School-Age Child Care (SACC) program due to the implementation of full-day kindergarten, which comes to $41.5 million.

The revised budget proposal budget includes about $10.6 million more than the advertised budget to reflect revised population data. Most of the enrollment growth is among elementary school students—which are costlier because they require smaller class sizes.

Dale says FCPS has about 24,000 employees, and is expected to hire well over 1,000 new teachers next year. Now that the economy is improving, many employees who had delayed retiring over the past three years, are likely to do so now, which means they can be replaced with younger, lower-paid people.

Among other issues, the revised budget calls for an additional $500,000 to support any changes the school board might make in FCPS discipline policies, such as the need to hire more hearing officers.

According to Dale, the budget estimates FCPS will save $1.2 million by closing Clifton Elementary School and will save some $2 million in transportation costs due to improved bus routes and GPS.

The budget also reflects the fact that FCPS can no longer charge fees for taking Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests. Parents who have already paid the fees should have received a reimbursement.

Mason District school board member Sandy Evans had proposed an amendment to eliminate those fees. State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli subsequently issued a formal opinion stating that fees cannot be imposed for mandatory end-of-course exams.

Evans now plans to propose an amendment to reduce the fees charged to students who participate in sports. Currently, each student must pay $100 per sport. Evans’ amendment would cap those fees at two per student per year.

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