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Thursday, April 6, 2017

School board increases elementary class sizes

By Jeffrey Longo

The Fairfax County School Board has approved a measure increasing minimum elementary school class sizes from 17 to 18 students, school board chair Sandy Evans (Mason) told the audience at a School Budget Town Hall on April 3.

Increasing the elementary class size formula floor by one student would save $4.7 million. The provision is included in the Fairfax County Public Schools’ advertised budget for FY 2018.

The minimum number, or “floor,” is most often used by schools that have high numbers of impoverished students or students with limited English skills that need good student-teacher ratios to succeed. These schools, even with these better ratios, still end up having lower test scores. Evans noted at the school board meeting that five of the eight schools affected by this policy change are in Mason District.

Put simply, this is the most regressive way of saving money the school system could come up with.

Evans opposed the increase but said she felt it’s unlikely to be reversed and suggests directing advocacy toward the Board of Supervisors to grant additional funding to the schools – a move which would by necessity draw from other county services given the tax rate is fixed for this year.

In addition to Evans, Karen Corbett Sanders (Mount Vernon) and Tammy Kaufax (Lee) voted against the increase.  

All the other school board members, including the at-large members who also represent Mason – Janette Hough, Ryan McElveen, and Ilryong Moon – voted for it. Hough, in fact, even joined other board members in voting for increasing the floor to 19 students. That measure failed to pass.

It is unacceptable for the school board to balance the budget on the backs of the most needy students. Cuts can be hard, but when it comes to fundamental learning, deliberately targeting the students and schools that struggle the most is incredibly backwards.

Another issue discussed at the budget town hall, but not yet voted on, calls for phasing out bus transportation to Level IV Advanced Academic Program Centers when a Level IV program is provided at a student’s base school. 

The Mason District Level IV Center is currently at Belvedere Elementary. However a number of other Mason District schools have local Level IV programs, including Annandale Terrace, Beech Tree, Columbia, Glen Forest, Mason Crest, Parklawn, and Westlawn. Sleepy Hollow Elementary will have Level IV next year starting with third grade.

As currently dictated, the policy would be phased in to allow rising fourth and fifth-graders to continue at Belvedere. However rising third-graders who are admitted to Level IV would no longer be bused to Belvedere if their base school has Level I. Since the policy has not yet been adopted, there remains a possibility that the school board could move all current students back to their home schools.

Other budget-cutting measures under consideration include eliminating fourth-grade strings, imposing a $150 athletic fee per sport, and charging a $100 pupil placement application processing fee to students who want to attend a school that is not their base school. Those fees would be waived for students eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

The most drastic cost savings measure approved by the school board includes increasing all class sizes by one student. The latest published list of cuts is available on the school board’s website.

The school board has scheduled public hearings on the FY 2018 budget for May 16 and, if needed, May 17.

20 comments:

  1. FCPS should look at all methods of reducing costs. The meals tax was a clear referendum on that. Nothing should be off the table. Quality of life in the county is fraying, existing taxes are going up, and we are being asked to pay new taxes, and services that benefit all residents, not just families with schoolchildren, are being cut. I applaud this change, and all other proposed and voted on, while being aware of the challenging population that some Mason District schools are home to.

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    1. Question for you: If nothing should be off the table, then why isn't the school system considering targeting cuts at the most high achieving schools rather than targeting cuts at the schools that are struggling the most because they have the most diverse student populations with a disproportionately high number of non-English speakers?

      If the school board must implement cost-cutting policies that are targeted at achievement like this, then perhaps they should cut from the top rather than the bottom.

      Cutting from the top only goes to grow our achievement gap - an achievement gap which I believe in some cases the department of education not so long ago warned was unconstitutional.

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    2. How do I say this politely. I really can't.

      Fairfax County needs, depends on, and MUST have high achieving schools to hang on to the diminishing clout and stature that is has, that is currently fraying, on a national scale. Yes, it means capitulating to the absurd outer beltway greasy wheels who think that they are bourgeoisie from time to time, and this is one of those times. FCPS pours loads into its low-achieving schools, and rightfully so, but the achievement results from the investment are just are not there. Should they continue to devote more FTE positions to schools struggling for accreditation and load them up with talented administrators? Absolutely. But once you go the way of PG county, it is hard to come back, and the County will need to bear that in mind in every decision that it makes.

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  2. Stop waiving fees for free and reduced meals students. Aren't free meals enough? Their pile of fringe benefits, along with free meals, just gets higher and higher, while hard-working tax-paying residents of the county who are with certainty for the most part NOT RICH, are left holding the bag.

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  3. This is ridiculous. Many of these schools are failing and can not handle the students they currently have and you want to punish the students who want to excel and send them back to their failing schools. I hear nothing about TJ who has a fleet of buses with very few kids on each bus. Why is that not being stopped? I never see any budget being cut for TJ at all.

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  4. This editorial by Mr. Longo should be titled as such. At first, I thought I would read a fact-based article on cuts to the school budget. Then I read Mr. Longo's commentary. He is certainly entitled to his opinion, and the Annandale Blog, of course, can publish it. BUT you should prominently state that it is an opinion piece. And, I would add, Mr. Longo may want to give context to his viewpoint. (Are you a Fairfax County resident, public school student parent, etc.?). Credibility is easy to lose and very difficult to regain.

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    1. I didn't play loosely with the facts. The fact is that the floor is being raised. the fact is that impacts struggling schools the most. fact is that it affects Mason District the most.

      fact based opinion: it is a stupidly regressive way to cut costs.

      I also included other facts and links to the proposed cuts.

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    2. ...it is clearly editorialized in spots, but reports on facts as well, like what exactly the board voted on. Come on.

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    3. You are missing the point. You editorialize in the piece. Thus making it an editorial or opinion piece, and should consequently be identified as such. I thought I was reading a news article and then it was interrupted with your opinions. Which is fine as long as you identify the piece accordingly.

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    4. I didn't realize "what's really going on" made all the rules on how to run Ellie's blog, thanks for clarifying how other people should conduct their business.

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    5. I did not look at the by-line, and when I re-read the piece I realized it was editorialized in places. The floor is being raised everywhere. The real issue why Fairfax County has struggling schools is language. Teachers are unable to teach because they are working on English. Perhaps setting up schools to just deal with that or programs to just deal with it in those schools. It is pretty easy when looking at the map to see where red schools lie and where low income non-English speakers reside. We are self segregating as a population with housing prices rising for the good school areas (helping Fairfax County) and falling for the poor performing schools. Fairfax county will not take away from the high performing schools because they will lose people moving here. They live in the county for the schools. Our house prices directly reflect that.

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  5. And this is where I pull a fast one :-). I actually do not advocate cutting from high achieving schools. I wanted to see what your reaction would be to the suggestion, and I'm not surprised that you defended top scoring schools so vehemently.

    I believe any needed cuts that go to the core of learning and the principal mission of public schools need to be uniform in nature. It is exactly why the proposed 1 student increase across the board is not nearly as concerning as an increase that targets one end of the spectrum.

    just an administrative note: my last post said "cutting from the top...". it shoukd say cutting from the bottom...".

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    1. Large swathes of Fairfax County have demographics issues, and large swathes are relatively untouched by ESOL and low-income families. That is the inequality problem here, and fixing that will fix the achievement gap. Nothing more, nothing less. Why do we get all the low-income housing, homeless shelters, and social services palaces? Some of it was organic growth and decay over time; elsewhere, it is engineered, thanks to our illustrious Supervisor, School Board, and BOS, who are more than happy to maintain the status quo of cordoning off low-income families to certain neighborhoods of the county.

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    2. http://www.greatschools.org/virginia/falls-church/fairfax-county-public-schools/

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  6. Does anyone know what would happen if the elementary school foreign language immersion program was abolished? I'm curious about how redirecting those teacher slots to the general student population would impact the student/teacher ratio.

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    1. Stop the Bailey's Magnet program.

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    2. Or create immersion programs in the reverse as a use or resources. If we can get the ESOL students caught up when they are 4-7, we could cut the achievement gap. Also offer full time year round programs for them.

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    3. A lot of these kids are here illegal or their parents are illegal and do not put as much in the system as they take out. Meantime our kids are feeling the brunt of the problem with increase class size and less money going into our school and you want to have a year round problem for the ESOL kids.

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  7. I would like to see the elementary school size go to 19 or 20 for more cost savings. I have seen title 1 schools have up to 27 in a class and do just fine. I was a title 1 school employee and had 25 in my class. All of the students did pass the necessary assessments.

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  8. Does the school board think this is a game? There needs to be more cuts.... Increasing the class size higher is very appropriate. The school system needs to understand that the taxpayers expect for them to manage the money respectfully and with extreme caution. A number of County residents feel that the school board is not managing the money properly...... and with this recent vote that clearly shows the residents who feel this way is on to something.

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