January 29, 2015
See also: Fx Free Citizen guest commentary
Dr. Garza and Members of the Board:
The schools' FY2016 budget press release states, "FCPS has taken historic reductions totaling nearly $435 million, including more than 2,175 positions since 2008." The facts are otherwise. Since 2008, spending increased $354M (from $2,144M to $2,498M) and staff by 1216 (22,261 to 23,477) positions, or one additional staff member for every 17 additional (from 166,307 to 186,785) students.
The new budget proposes $119M of spending increases, including the full-year impact of this year's 2.5% raise and a proposed 3.5% raise. These raises cost $70M, compared to $28M for increased enrollment and changing demographics. Teachers got 4% and 5% raises ten years in a row, between FY2000 and FY2009 and again in FY2014.
Private employers contribute 3% or 4% of an employee's salary to 401Ks. FCPS contributes 20% of salary to pensions, which permit retirement at 55 at 75% of salary. Raises and pensions, not population or demographics, are the major cause of our annual 5% real estate tax hikes and the recent increases in class size.
The 12/4/14 FCPS BottomLine newsletter states, "FCPS is losing teachers to surrounding school systems offering more attractive salaries." We asked how many teachers resigned due to salary. The response was, "There are no responsive documents." FCPS has 15 applicants for every job opening.
The newsletter also states funding is needed "...to maintain high-quality instructional programs." However, the 2014 ACT test results for FCPS report that only 53% of students were prepared for college and only 35% of Hispanics and 20% of African-Americans. In November, we asked FCPS if it agreed with these percentages and if it found them acceptable. We have had no answer.
The solution to low achievement is curriculum, not tax hikes. Early elementary students need phonics, arithmetic drill, penmanship, geography and U.S. and world history every year starting in Kindergarten, and a reading list of inspiring books. FCPS has resisted these solutions for decades.
I admired the "Teacher of the Year" photographs displayed in the administration building. I felt those teachers deserved 5% annual raises and generous pensions. However, should all teachers have been given the same raises as the best teachers? Also, the best teachers may be leaving due frustration with administrators, which we believe is being addressed.
Between FY2005 and FY2013, FCPS average teacher salary increased 17%; residential real estate taxes increased 21%. Over the same period Fairfax County private-sector salaries increased 2%. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that Fairfax County per-capita incomes decreased in 2013. Reverse the excesses of the last 15 years by cutting salaries and reducing pension benefits. We are still in a recession. Raise achievement by fixing the curriculum, and retain teachers by reducing administrivia. Thank you.
Arthur Purves, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance president