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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fairfax County schools budget calls for cutting 731 staff positions

Glasgow Middle School
Fairfax County Schools Superintendent Karen Garza has proposed a budget for FY 2015 that calls for reductions in staff, larger class sizes, and increased fees—plus a pay raise for employees.

The cutbacks are needed because the school system is “facing a number of increased expenditures that are beyond our control,” Garza said.

The proposed $2.5 billion budget is 2.4 percent, or $59.4 million, more than the FCPS budget approved for FY 2014. Garza said the additional funds are needed to accommodate enrollment growth of about 3,000 students, a growing proportion of students with special needs, increases in health insurance rates, and an increase in FCPS’s required contribution to the Virginia Retirement System.

To offset those cost increases, the budget would eliminate 731 staff positions. About 469 classroom would be cut by increasing class sizes and reducing needs-based staffing, eliminating instructional assistants, and cutting the career and transition program. An additional 180 school support positions would be eliminated, including assistant principals, technology specialists, school clerical employees, and custodians.

“We hope a number of those positions will be reduced by attrition,” although if Garza’s proposal is approved there will likely be some layoffs, said school board member Sandy Evans (Mason District) at an informal meeting with constituents Jan. 11.

Schools with “needs-based staffing” would be exempt from the teacher reductions. Those are schools where more than 20 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. Virtually all of the schools in Mason District are in that category. The only exception is Mantua Elementary School, which is partly in Mason.

The proposal for eliminating assistant principals only applies to small elementary and middle schools. In those cases, two schools would share one assistant principal. Most of the schools in Mason District are large, so it’s not known which if any of them will be affected.

Evans said she isn’t happy about the prospect of cutting staff, but said, “We have to do something.”

FCPS has a projected deficit of about $130 million unless the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors comes up with more funds, Evans said. Garza is requesting the county increase its contribution to the FCPS budget by 5.7 percent, or an additional $98.1 million, over the amount approved for FY 2014. 

More than 70 percent of the FCPS budget comes from the county, so the tax rate set by the BoS will be crucial. “That will drive the amount of money we have” for the public schools, Evans said.

The BoS will determine the advertised property tax rate on March 4. It could later set a lower tax rate when it adopts a budget this spring, but cannot go higher than the advertised rate.

The proposed budget calls for new fees for Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) tests and would increase the fees for community use of FCPS facilities. Those changes would generate $4.2 million.

“I’ve never liked fees. I fought long and hard to get rid of the athletic fees,” Evans said. “I’m withholding judgment on this.” She expects the AP and IB fees would probably be waived for students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. 

Garza said teacher salaries need to be increased because teacher pay had been frozen in FY 2010 and 2011 and step increases were eliminated during the past four years.

Evans believes raising teacher pay is crucial to maintaining high-quality schools. “We’re losing teachers to surrounding communities.” Arlington and other nearby jurisdictions pay higher salaries.

“Not only is increasing teacher pay the right thing to do, that’s how we attract and retain the best teachers,” she said. “There’s nothing more important to a child’s education than a well-trained, top-notch teacher.”

The school board will hold public hearings on the budget Jan. 27 and 28 and will have a budget work session Jan. 30. The school board will presents its budget to the BoS April 8.

1 comment:

  1. Personally, I would be happy to pay more in taxes to keep our schools operating at top quality. Cutting over 700 positions? Not a good idea.