Meeting deep into the night last week, the Fairfax County School Board rejected Superintendent Jack Dale’s recommendation that stiff fees be required in the coming fiscal year for participation in Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and PSAT tests, and in athletics and other activity programs.
But the fate of these policies is far from decided. The School Board dropped the fees, restored some programs and forwarded a request of $1.65 billion to the Fairfax Board of Supervisors.
Here’s the problem: with the regional flatlining of residential real estate values, Fairfax County faces a serious tax revenue shortage as it prepares its next fiscal year budget. County Board of Supervisors members said last November that would require a flatlining of the School Board budget. The schools “should not expect a penny more,” some were reported to say.
But with 1,500 new students having entered the system of 167,000 students this year, and another 1,000 new students expected next fall, flatlining was viewed by the schools as simply impossible. Still, Superintendent Dale came forward with a recommended school budget that went half way there, cutting about $50 million from an estimated $100 million in new needs, and that included his proposed fees and program cuts.
So, by the end of April, if the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors stick to their word of last fall, the Supervisors’ transfer to the schools will be far more severe than the budget Dale proposed. They will simply vote a lump sum significantly below the $1.65 requested.
Then, it will come back to the School Board, which will have to decide, again, how to make the cuts needed to balance its budget. That process will be finalized May 22.
Mason District School Board member Kaye Kory was one of only two members last week to vote against the budget request of the Supervisors on grounds that it still cut too many programs, especially for at-risk students.
In an interview with the News-Press yesterday, she said the proposal to slap $85 fees on Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB) and PSAT exams would result in a precipitous drop in participation, causing “serious damage to lower income at-risk students in a disproportionate way.”
“It is a reprehensible, classist idea,” she said, noting that when he submitted his recommended budget, Superintendent Dale said openly that it would lower the level of academic achievement in the system. “Test scores will go down,” Kory reported he said.
“This cuts into the foundation of everything we’ve worked hard to build, to make high-level educational opportunities available for students of all economic backgrounds,” she said. She cited Stuart, Falls Church and Annandale High Schools as prime examples of where progress with at-risk students has been greatest. At Stuart, 55% of students qualify for subsidized free lunch programs.
But even as the School Board was unanimous in votes to eliminate the test and activity fees, Kory still voted against the proposed budget because it called for an increase in class sizes and the elimination of some programs important to at-risk students in particular, including summer school.
She explained her “no” vote by pointing to what School Board members are sworn to represent according to the state code. “Our job is defined as hiring a Superintendent and crafting budgets that meet the needs of students,” she said. It is not the job of the School Board to cut vital programs on behalf of taxpayers.
“I can’t predict what will happen now that our budget is in the hands of the Supervisors,” Kory said. “They all campaigned on making education a priority.” Still, she said, in the nine years she’s been on the School Board, “the Supervisors have never given us what we’ve asked for.”