Madame Chairman, Members of the Board, and Dr. Spillane:
Good evening. Tonight I speak as president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance.
Recent public statements by school board members suggest that the schools' capital improvement budget is underfunded by $56 million per year for the next ten years.
You can and should fund this shortfall from the school operating budget. This board's current policy of funding both school renewals and construction from bonds is not working. Renewals should be funded from the operating budget and construction from bonds.
Over the past two decades, the school operating budget has grown much faster than inflation and enrollment. If it had grown at the same rate as inflation and enrollment, this year's budget would have been $500 million less.
Much of the increase is justified. However, over the last twenty years administration has increased 500% faster than enrollment. The number of guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists has increased 900% faster than enrollment. If these two groups had grown at the same rate as enrollment, this year's budget would have been $75 million less. In comparison, the average cost of renewing a high school is about $26 million.
General education staff has increased 250% faster than enrollment. Despite these increases, standardized test scores have remained flat and there has been no reduction in the minority student achievement gap. While there has been a small increase in SAT scores, the Fairfax County Public Schools average SAT score is only at the 65th percentile. The school system's average score on College Board achievement tests is only at the 50th percentile.
The reason that achievement has not increased with spending is not due to the increase in student diversity; it is due to lack of accountability. In 1995, the School Board instructed the administration to evaluate the cost effectiveness of all instructional programs. For two years in a row, the school administration has responded with program budgets that list over sixty programs but which do not evaluate them.
In the absence of any evaluation from the school administration, I would suggest some operating budget reductions to free up funds for capital improvements. In administration, reduce assistant principals, school clerical staff, central office directors and coordinators, and technical specialists. Much of the increase in these personnel has been for teacher professionalization evaluations, school plans and restructuring, the Department of Information Technology, and the Department of Instructional Services. These programs and offices have failed to increase student achievement in the past and have no goal to increase student achievement in the future. Editorials in several newspapers have questioned the wisdom of spending $11 million on a new student information system.
Despite substantial increases in the number of guidance student behavior is much worse. The school system should ask the state to rethink the mandate for this program.
As my good friend and critic, Brett Cramer, stated in a recent letter to the editor, "I am convinced that millions of dollars could be cut from the FCPS operating budget while improving the quality of educational delivery." I would only add that some of the savings could be applied to capital improvements.