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.
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.