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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Public input sought on Fairfax County schools budget

A community meeting on the FCPS budget.
Well over a 100 people showed up at a meeting hosted by school board member Sandy Evans Sept. 28 on the dire state of the Fairfax County Public Schools budget.

Evans had organized the meeting to explain why the school system is facing a huge deficit – potentially up to $75 million – for fiscal year 2016-17 and solicit feedback on what programs or services could be eliminated.

“The challenge we have is that the school board will have to make difficult decisions on what to cut,” she told the crowd at Stuart High School.

“Education affects property values, so everyone should care about the school budget, not just parents,” said Sarah Mattingly, who was appointed by Evans to a school budget task force. “If you don’t speak, you really shouldn’t complain about the results.” 

She urged residents to use a “budget proposal tool” on the FCPS website to estimate the impact of various cost-cutting measures and submit their ideas to the task force.

Kristen Michael, assistant superintendent for financial services, gave an overview of how FCPS came to have such a large deficit:
  • Enrollment is growing every year and there have been about 22,000 new students since 2008.
  • More students need special services, such as English as a Second Language (ESOL) or special education.
  • More students are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals.
  • Costs for employee health insurance are rising.
  • FCPS faces increased costs for its participation in the state-mandated employee retirement system.
Meanwhile, Michael said, while the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has increased the amount of funds it transfers to FCPS, those increases have not kept pace with higher costs. More than 71 percent of the school budget comes from the county, and most county revenue comes from property taxes.

Only 23 percent of FCPS funds come from the state, which is far less than what other Virginia school systems receive, but the General Assembly isn’t likely to change that, as most lawmakers are from rural areas and are not interested in changing the funding formula to benefit Northern Virginia.

At the same time, nearly half the schools are over capacity, and FCPS is way behind in renovations. Teacher salaries are slipping behind other districts in the D.C. region, especially for those with the most experience. That means the system risks losing the most qualified teachers to better-paying jobs elsewhere.

According to Michael, FCPS is already running a tight ship with the lowest level of spending on non-school-based administrators in the region. FCPS has already cut nearly $100 million and 2,175 jobs since 2008.

During the meeting, Evans read questions and comments members of the audience wrote on index cards. In response to a plea not to cut ESOL, Evans said ESOL is a legal requirement and can’t be eliminated but class sizes could be increased. Other people urged the school board not to cut arts programs or the IB program and to waive the physical education requirement for student athletes.

One suggestion under consideration is switching high schools from a seven-period day to six periods, she said. That would save money by eliminating teacher planning time, but would result in fewer electives. A change from two semesters to three trimesters is also under discussion. In addition, the board is also searching for other revenue sources, such as grants from foundations, Evans said.

Mattingly urged the audience to let the Board of Supervisors know if they are willing to see their property taxes raised or support a meals tax. A meals tax, which several other local jurisdictions have, could bring in $90 million a year. Politicians aren’t likely to stick their necks out to support higher taxes, but if enough people believe this is important, she said, it could make a difference.


  1. FCPS is a mess. we are sending our kids to private school even if it means tightening our belts to afford it.

  2. > “The challenge we have is that the school board will have to make difficult decisions on what to cut"

    Again. And again. And again.


  3. Absolutely! Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church City, Herndon, and Vienna all have meals tax.

    Does having to pay 20¢ in tax stop someone from buying a $5 meal McDonalds in Falls Church City? Does having to pay $2 on a $50 meal stop someone from buying a meal in Clarendon?

    A 4% meals tax could generate approximately $90 million for Farifax County. If the BoS c̶a̶n̶ ̶n̶o̶t̶ will not fully fund our schools we need to find additional revenue.

    1. "Does having to pay 20¢ in tax stop someone from buying a $5 meal McDonalds in Falls Church City ."

      It's not 20¢. It's 50¢. You left out the 6% sales tax. The appropriate way to evaluate a proposed new tax is to consider the cumulative impact of the new tax and all applicable existing taxes. Moreover, the reason you may not care about that Falls Church City meals tax is because you don't have to pay it. You probably don't pay it very often and have discretion to avoid it simply by driving to a Fairfax County restaurant.

      Moreover, the authors of the study you cite failed to consider the impact on consumer of paying a 10% surcharge on everything they order out. That significant because the majority of Fairfax residents have active lifestyles that make these sorts of pervasive consumption taxes unavoidable. They're the ones who will be paying most of it and I doubt if they'll ever pay as little as 20¢.

  4. Kristen Michael needs a reality check. My property taxes have increased by 24% in three years and, with property assessments rising, will continue to do so unless the BOS unexpectedly decides to equalize the tax rate. So, thanks anyway Kristen, but I think I'm holding up my end.

    The meals tax is another one of those insidious hidden taxes that's worked its way into local budgets as a means of deluding local residents into believing that someone else is paying their bills In fact, local residents will end up paying at least three quarters of it without even getting a tax deduction. I've calculated my share as something in the neighborhood of $400 - $600 per annum. That's because it's so pervasive no one can expect to avoid it unless they remain barricaded in their homes. Moreover, there's little evidence such a tax would bring in the supposed $90 MM or that, when added to the recent sales tax increase, wouldn't actually end up hurting businesses affected by it.

    This article merely reinforce the conclusion that Sandy Evans and her spendthrift colleagues are incapable of coming up with any solutions to the FCPS financial challenges other than by throwing money at them. We may be stuck with Sandy, but I hoping enough of her colleagues are defeated to at least temporarily force her to stop spouting her incessant tax and spend mantra.

    1. "This article merely reinforce the conclusion that Sandy Evans and her spendthrift colleagues are incapable of coming up with any solutions to the FCPS financial challenges other than by throwing money at them. We may be stuck with Sandy, but I hoping enough of her colleagues are defeated to at least temporarily force her to stop spouting her incessant tax and spend mantra."

      YES!! Thank you, sir. Fire Karen Garza while we are at it.

    2. In my many decades of living in Fairfax County,
      some quite active, I have NEVER heard any school administrator express any desire to do things in a more frugal or efficient manner. It just is not in their genes...they pay top price for everything they less expensive substitutes..only the best and most expensive for everything.
      Also, they have commissioned an outside audit of the whole system (never done before to my knowledge) and I think we need to hear from that first before we get jammed into spending that does not have to be committed to until next year.
      Gaza has been directly and publicly insulting to the BOS and I am unaware of any correction of her behavior by the School Board.
      I'm not sure who works for who. Does the School Board work for Gaza or does Gaza work for the school board?
      She has also got directly involved in political correction done to my knowledge.
      Also the School Board which is supposed to be nonpartisan is clearly politically divided - a dismal failure
      Oh, except , the high schoolers so get extra sleep each night.....they did do that. Too bad middle schoolers who get less. But give them credit..they worked very hard on high schooler sleep.....forget the schools without STEM programs.

    3. Call on Sandy Evans to fire Karen Garza!

    4. I get the impression that Karen Garza maneuvered Penny Gross into changing her position on establishing a school at the Willston site. If that's correct, then Mason residents would be remiss in not taking her seriously.

  5. FCPS needs to assess the free lunch program and make sure the recipients truly qualify. And, FCPS needs to make sure that the free lunch program is properly managed at each school. Undoubtedly there is a percentage of people taking advantage of the system. This program is a huge expense and should be run with a steady hand.

    1. I love it when completely uninformed people think they have a magic bullet solution. You are aware that the free lunch program is paid for by the federal US Department of Agriculture, NOT by FCPS, right? No, obviously you have no idea, you just like to spout off uninformed platitudes.

    2. Free lunch families get far more benefits than just meals. They get gym uniforms. They get reduced-price parking spaces. They get 13 years of discounts on a litany of items. The Department of Agriculture is NOT covering all of these expenses.

      And many families lie about their household incomes to qualify for these benefits.

  6. Fire Penny Gross for sticking FCPS an annual expense of hundreds of thousands of dollars for busing students to Bailey's Upper! This is not a walkable school. Over time the busing translates into millions.

    If Bailey's Upper had been located next to Wilson Library like FCPS and the community wanted the children could walk. 70% of the Bailey's students used to walk to school. But, Penny pushed FCPS into purchasing an office building in a commercial district.

    Our Supervisor is single handedly responsible for wasting millions of dollars that end up coming out of the FCPS budget. Gross controls the available land parcels and she doesn't seem to mind wasting the school budget and taxpayer money with her poor land use decisions

    1. Here Here, well said. The Board of Supervisors is running Fairfax into the ground, mainly Penny Gross and Sharon Bulova who are so afraid of doing anything helpful because they might lose their job. They need to lose their jobs. Under their leadership Mason District has been and will be the first and the last to lose funding. We have the power now to make a change.

    2. Let's worry about the kids, not the politics! This is obviously not just about Penny Gross or any one entity, this is about solving a bigger problem. I am not even a resident of Mason, so the endless Penny Gross talk is just unreal.

      Please save your vicious campaigning for another forum. PLEASE.

      Let's come up with multi-modal solutions on the federal, state, local, and private sector levels to fix this shortfall. Just endlessly making this about Penny Gross or some other local politician will not solve these issues.

      I never post on here, but enough is enough.

    3. Fire Penny Gross? Seriously? Look at her opponent - Mollie "No Details" Loeffler says she is going to magically increase school funding while at the same time as cutting taxes, and also increasing finds for a number of other pet projects. How she plans on doing this is?? The numbers don't add up. A lot of big promises not based in reality..

    4. Penny and the other members of the Board have tackled a tough economic situation with great skill and prioritizing fairly well.
      I just so sick of people whose answer to everything is to bash someone in authority.
      Most middle schools are moving past that.
      This habit is destroying our country.
      Be real. Please.
      If you can do better, run for office.

    5. This is not about Penny Gross or her opponent. No need to bash either one. It's about working together to find solutions for kids!!!

      Leave the politics out for once, it is not doing our kids any good!

    6. This is about Penny Gross! She has claimed responsibility for adding 3 schools in Mason District. First she says she is not responsible for school issues, and then she turns around to claim credit for what FCPS has clawed their way to get. If you think this is not about Penny then look around at the other districts compared to Mason. They have less overcrowded schools, playing fields, restaurants, and more of everything to offer. Twenty years is enough! Please give someone else a chance. Honestly it can't hurt.

    7. You weirdos are so obsessed with Penny Gross...your life is sad!

  7. School bus driver here. The completely stupid and misguided decision to change high school start times is just one example of how out of touch the school board is with its employees, and the general public. Not a single bus driver and very few school staff members supported the change. We saw what would happen, especially since Transportation was given no extra funding to hire more drivers and get more buses. This is why your children are late to school everyday, folks! We are trying our best, but we can't do it. This school board has no idea what is going on in the real world. A meals tax is a great idea, but those funds would be a drop in the bucket. Our property values are high because we have a great school system, with employees who care about the kids. Does the school board?

    1. I agree with you 100%; as an FCPS teacher and a long-time Fairfax County resident, I want to thank you for speaking up.

    2. We pulled our kid out of FCPS because of the early start times, which were harming her physical and mental health. But of course schools exist for teachers and bus drivers, not for students.

  8. How much longer will the BoS turn a blind eye to the issue of illegal immigration? Yes, we are a country of immigrants. Are we also a country of law breakers? We should welcome LEGAL immigrants and punish those who intentionally break our laws. It's time for the CITIZENS of Fairfax County to wake up to the real impact illegal immigration is having on your schools and communities!

  9. @StudlyGeek - and what, pray tell, should the Fairfax BOS (a local govt entity) do about immigration which is a national issue? Perhaps build a wall around the county? Or perhaps they can create an army to go around and 'round up "those people" and deport them. Perhaps we should just screen out any children we suspect who are here illegally and not let them go to school so they can instead wander the streets. Please go ahead...enlighten us all, as I grab some popcorn and an Advil.

  10. they could have used the 5.5 million dollars they are going to have to spend in tax dollars to align Charles Street correctly due to the hand out to Spectrum

  11. Vote for Trump, build a wall, throw the kids over it and send them all to Hungry, really? If any one entity is to blame it is the bozos in congress that can't pass immigration reform. They are the ones who need to be fired.

  12. To Anonymous 10/1/15. 12 :05AM


  13. This issue is money. Our Supervisor is a spendthrift, as is the BOS. The money they mismanage could be directed to schools and other services, like the senior programs getting cut in Annandale.

    Mollie is pragmatic. She would work hard to clean up the mess Supervisor Gross has made of Mason District and where possible turn around some of the ill-conceived financial decisions before the deficit grows bigger and more cuts are required.

    1. Going to disagree with ya that Penny is a spendthrift - if you recall, Supervisor Gross even voted against the pay raise for supervisors. Also by law the country has to have a balanced budget, so what "deficit that is growing bigger" are you talking about??

      Mollie may be a nice person, but she knows nothing about managing an over 3.5 billion dollar annual budget. Also Fairfax County has consistently been rated as one of the best managed counties in the country, so what exactly to you mean about all the "ill-conceived financial decisions" - please provide specifics.

      I'd rather have someone with experience managing the county budget, over a "former" Tea Partier who talks big, but has a slim resume.

    2. Dont try to reason with the Anti-Penny people. They have no lives other than to insult Penny.

      And the same platitudes (pragmatic, ect.) that they were saying about Jessica Swanson they are now saying about Molly. It's just a matter of they really have structured their lives around an obsession with Penny. No sense in talking sense into them.

  14. TO: Anonymous10/1/15, 5:02 PM

    On a serious note, here are some specifics. Your data about Fairfax County's financial management is out of date. County reserves are at an all-time low and its AAA bond rating is in jeopardy.

    See The Washington Post article about the $100m deficit for 2015 and the projected $79m deficit for 2016. How can the County budget be balanced if there is a deficit?

    Contrary to your utopian vision, Penny’s mismanagement of the county budget in her land use negotiations with FCPS has cost the county multi-millions to date.

    Going forward the expense of busing children who previously walked to school is at roughly $350,000/yr. in perpetuity that would not have been necessary had she gone forward with a Bailey’s Elementary School partnership with Woodrow Wilson Library instead of forcing FCPS to put the children in an office building.

    As for Mollie’s resume, take a look at Penny’s resume in 1995. It’s very similar to Mollie’s. Everybody starts somewhere. And, everyone stops at some point. Penny’s stopping point is now. I’m betting on Mollie on Nov. 3.

    P.S. Did you know that Hillary was a Goldwater Girl? LOL!

  15. In 1995 Penny had over 30 years on Capital Hill for US Senators and Representatives from multiple Western states working on and solving real national issues. Then she became a community leader.

    Mollie is a malcontent whose only claim to fame is reviving the Mason District Council - an unelected, self-serving group of NIMBY whiners.

    If you think Mollie is as qualified as Penny was in 1995, you are truly delusional. Mollie has accomplished nothing - Parklawn, her own neighborhood, is no better than it was before as she claims and she dropped them for the MDC.

    Betting on Mollie . . .? Good luck, you'll need lots of it.

    1. To: Anonymous10/2/15, 9:12 AM
      Wow! Our situation in Mason District is even worse than I realized. So, Penny brought Capitol Hill experience in subterfuge, spendthrift attitudes and backbiting to our local politics...this explains a lot.

      I do not want my local government to reflect the disfunctionality we witness at the federal level. Apparently, Penny has no background in the business world or the everyday workaday world that most of us endure. In 20 years she has shown little interest in Mason District and it shows. Supervisor Gross imposes her ideas and fails to incorporate those of her constituents. Her discernable goal has been to promote Fairfax County and elevate herself simultaneously.

      Its past time to work with someone who understands people, listens to their concerns and holds the same values they do. Mollie is someone who believes in teamwork and prudent financial management. She manages properties and has managed a retail business. She understands what it takes to be a small business person and overseeing finances to keep a business going. Small business is the backbone of FFX County and the country. Mollie is a breath of fresh air.

      NIMBY is becoming an extremely boring word. It only serves to divide, which is dysfunctional itself. The people you accuse of NIMBY pay plenty of taxes, give donations to causes and have children attending our local schools, so be creative and come up with a better descriptor if you really need it. The people you are calling NIMBY are working hard to come up with functional solutions to the dysfunctionality they witness daily.

    2. That's correct. NIMBY is boring. I like BIMBO: Build It Merrily Better Overthere.

      She's not the voice of the NIMBYs but rather the Queen of the BIMBOs.

    3. TO: Anonymous10/2/15, 1:59 PM

      You are getting more creative, but meaner.

      By "She" you must mean Penny Gross, Queen of your " BIMBO's", who wanted to eliminate 589 of the lowest income housing units in Seven Corners? Residents of the neighboring communities and other Supervisors protested. Four supervisors refused to vote for the Seven Corners plan until Penny wrote them back into the plan.

    4. To Anonymous 10/2, 9:12 am--
      Thank you Penny, 50 years of your experience is quite enough. We desperately need a change.

    5. Well, I would have thought w Penny G as deputy chair of the BoS that we would have a better district. But our district is a disaster. If PG took her job as district supervisor as serious as she takes the deputy-chair we would have a better district. Every time I drive by Mosaic and Dunn Loring I just want to scream that I invested my money and time in Mason.

      Penny you have you have disappointed many of your supporters, either get serious about Mason, the job your supported elected you to do or let someone else do it.