January 28, 2016
Dr. Garza and Members of the Board:
My name is Arthur Purves. I address you as president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance. Once again the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) administration has been less than candid in its budget presentation.
The administration states that since FY2008 the school budget has been cut by $500M and 2,000 positions when in fact it increased by $400M and 1000 positions.
The administration states that since 2009, school funding has decreased. FY2009 was the last year of the nine-year housing bubble during which assessments tripled and real estate taxes doubled. Since 2000, school funding has increased 5 times faster than enrollment and real spending 50% faster than enrollment.
Teachers say that they get only a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) of about 1% and omit saying that they also got a 2.5% step increase. FCPS Financial Services has provided a table of COLAs and step increases since 2000. Teachers have had raises 15 of the past 17 years, and the average annual raise since 2000 has been almost 4%.
No mention is made of the soaring costs for health insurance and pensions. Since 2000, school spending for health plans and pensions has increased $385M (from $161M to $546)M, or $250M more than needed to keep up with inflation and enrollment.
We are told that the best teachers are going to Arlington Public Schools for higher pay. However when asked how many teachers left, the FCPS replies that it does not collect that data. Apparently teachers are not leaving for the private sector.
Citizens were asked to complete an interactive budget tool to prioritize possible budget cuts. Options did not include choosing between 1%, 2%, 3%, or 4% raises; increasing retirement age; higher-deductible health plans; or merit pay or bonuses instead of across-the-board raises to retain the best teachers. Assistant principals cost $50M, including benefits; the budget tool only showed a potential for $5M in savings. Of 24,000 contracted employees only 9,000 are regular classroom teachers.
A school handout cites ACT test numbers showing 87% of seniors are prepared for college-level reading and 76% for math. The handout omits saying that only 69% are prepared for college-level biology, and that only 59% meet all four of the ACTís college benchmarks.
Finally, the Superintendent has held budget press briefings for the past 16 years. This year was the first time a Superintendent walked away from the TV cameras without taking questions from the press. A $121M spending increase merits more transparency.