-- Charles McAndrew, February 23, 2016
As an FCTA board member, I attended the FCPS listening session at the South County High School in Lorton. I got there early and put on each table about 4 copies of the latest FCTA one page Flyer. By 7pm, I counted around 80 attendees. I sat directly in front of Dr. Karen Garza, FCPS School Superintendent and her top officials at the table. There was Dr. Steven Lockard, Deputy Superintendent; Eric Brent, Executive Principal, Region 4; Elizabeth Schultz, Springfield School Board Member; Karen Corbett Sanders, Mount Vernon School Board Member; and Ryan McElveen, School Board Member at Large. I personally gave each of these top officials the FCTA Flyer! The meeting proceeded as follows:
Dr. Garza started her presentation by praising the FCPS system and particularly the teachers! She stated that about 93% of FCPS students from the class of 2015 graduated on time, exceeding the state average of 90.5%. Approximately 74% of graduates attend post-secondary programs. FCPS students outperformed their peers in Virginia and the nation on SAT in 2015 with an average of 1669 compared to the Virginia average of 1523 and the national average of 1462. As for the ACT tests, 87% of the FCPS students who took the ACT test last year are ready for college-level coursework in English composition compared to 77% of students in Virginia and 64% of students nationwide. In addition, 76% of FCPS students who took the ACT tests last year are ready for college level coursework in mathematics compared to 58% in Virginia and 42% nationwide. She said that the FCPS is the best school system she has ever seen! Dr. Garza also mentioned something I had never heard of before, that the FCPS system rates very highly and competitively with the best school systems in Europe and Singapore. [This claim is very much open to question!!!]
Dr. Garza mentioned that teachers salaries are lagging in comparison to neighboring school districts. She stated, as an example, Arlington County school teachers are paid $10 to $15,000 more than the average FCPS teacher. Dr. Garza wants to give the teachers raises that should be justified. This would amount to a step increase plus 1.0% market scale adjustment for all FCPS employees. I believe I heard her say that the total compensation would be 3.5%. Her other main goal is to reduce class size in every elementary classroom to below 30 students where space is available.
Dr. Garza has requested a 6.7% increase in funding from the County for FY 2017. Mr. Ed Long, County Executive, only proposed a 3% increase in the FCPS budget. The county transfer from their overall budget to FCPS is 72.6%. The FCPS budget is projected to be $2.7 billion for FY 2017. Dr. Garza mentioned that since 2008, the FCPS has had to cut almost $500 million from the budget. At a previous meeting with Dr. Garza, I reminded her that since 2008, the FCPS budget has increased approximately $100 million each year since that time. For example, last year it was $2.6 billion, the previous year it was $2.5 billion, and the year before that it was $2.4 billion.
Questions and answers -- I was the first to ask Dr. Garza some questions as follows: I mentioned that she has stated that the FCPS system is the 10th largest in the USA, so why does it have the largest school bus fleet? She said that Fairfax County is 405 square miles with hills and valleys and that they are now exploring other ways to get kids to school such as issuing vouchers to ride the Connector buses when necessary.
I mentioned that her handout sheet does not break down ESOL costs and Free or Reduced Meals costs. Yet her chart does shows $488.7 million for Special Education. She said that her staff could provide these numbers. FCPS has around 54,000 students receiving Free or Reduced Meals each day, and she feels feeding poorer students breakfast each day is vitally important to a child. They also provide lunches under this program. What I did learn is that this is a Federally funded program. The staff handed out two FCPS sheets for the audience.
The next FCPS Listening Session is at Chantilly High School on Monday evening at 6:30 on February 29, 2016. I plan to be there!
-- Charles McAndrew, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance