Fairfax School Board Moves Budget Forward
Members vote to increase request in county transfer to fund field custodians, remedies to achievement gap issues.
The Fairfax County School Board approved an advertised $2.5 billion fiscal year 2014 budget Thursday that asks county supervisors for $3 million more in their annual transfer to the system, to fund field custodian positions and add more part-time advanced academic resource teachers in elementary schools with high risk populations.
That request comes on top of a 5.5 percent increase ($92.4 million) in funding from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors — for a total transfer of $1.77 billion — already in the proposal Superintendent Jack Dale unveiled last month.
The 10-2 vote sends the spending plan to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Fairfax County Executive Ed Long will release his budget Feb. 26.
Board members passed three amendments Thursday night to adjust Dale's proposal, which includes funding for 292.5 additional school positions to accommodate a 2,857 student increase in enrollment, for a total enrollment of 184,393 students.
Members Ryan McElveen (At-large) and Ilryong Moon (At-large) successfully introduced an amendment to add 19 field custodial positions, funded by increasing the requested county transfer by $1 million.
Field custodians are used as substitute support to custodial staff across the system, with elementary schools given first priority, schools spokesman John Torre said.
In calendar year 2011, Torre said, more than 66 percent of field custodian requests went unfilled.
The board authorized 20 field custodial positions last year in the FY 2013 budget — but with the exception of one hire, all have remained unfilled.
Dale said he hadn't moved forward on the hires because there was not a commitment to fund these positions on a continuing basis — it wasn't good practice to hire one year and fire the next, he said.
Custodians spoke to school board members earlier this year about the hardship that gap has created. Recently, they've had 13 substitutes (14 after one hire this year) to fill gaps at the county's 196 schools.
Fairfax Education Association Michael Hairston praised the decision to make filling those positions a priority, noting he's heard from custodial staff it's difficult to do their jobs without the backup support.
"I'm delighted," Hairston said. "I'm hopeful we can get them back in schools as soon as possible."
The board also narrowly voted (6-4-1) to ask for $2 million more from the county as a placeholder to explore offering more advanced academic resources to students at elementary schools with high risk indices.
The issue was one of several for which some members said they were hesitant to ask for more from the supervisors, who with the exception of last year, have given little or no increase.
About 72 percent of the school board's budget comes from the county supervisors; 52.2 percent of the county's annual expenditures go toward the schools.
Dan Storck (Mount Vernon), who introduced the amendment, said he intended the amendment as a way to open the door on further discussion, including in a work session Monday on the system's Priority Schools Initiative (PSI) and this summer, when the board revisits a potential expansion of its advanced academic offerings.
"The specifics of the program or the specifics of the implementation would be subject to school board review and agreement when we go to do final budget in May," Storck said. " ... In the end, we’re going to have to make the numbers work, not the board of supervisors."
The board also approved a placeholder of $3 million to expand the Family and Early Childhood Education Program (FECEP) starting next fall, offsetting that cost by reducing by $3 million funding for extended teacher time.
Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) took issue with funding that proposal over her own failed amendment, which would have provided $0.4 million for special education reading and math literacy initiatives to address _a growing special education achievement gap._
The funding for the program — which Schultz said was already in development by FCPS staff on a multi-year track — would have come from budget reductions or additional revenue sources identified by Dale.
Her amendment would have fast-tracked the rollout of the program to help kids that need it sooner, she said.
The fact that Fairfax is starting to fall behind when compared to salaries in nearby jurisdictions — and an ongoing workload issue teachers have asked the board to address for more than a year — are problems some members pledged to discuss further when they made final budget tweaks in May.
"We still have plenty of time as a board to evaluate [this]. I am supporting [an amendment that reduces extended teacher time funding] but that in no way changes at least my emphasis on teacher workload and teacher job satisfaction,” Patty Reed (Providence) said.