Raise the tax rate. Lower the tax rate. Fully fund our schools. Schools spend too much. Provide more money for affordable housing. Don’t spend my taxes on more housing.
Save my neighborhood. These messages, and many more, were included in budget testimony from Fairfax County residents this week as the Board of Supervisors conducted its annual three-night series of public hearings on the county’s proposed FY 2009 budget. Overall, more than 200 people signed up and spoke to the Board on the current budget proposals.
The majority of speakers focused on school funding, and expressed concern that the current tight budget situation at both the local and state levels might mean that at-risk students, especially, would not have access to programs that help them succeed. At J.E.B. Stuart High School, teachers testified that the school’s literacy programs help second language learners become better readers and pass reading-based SOL (Standards of Learning) tests. Social Studies Department Chairman Pam Martinov noted that students often make a two grade level jump in reading during the course of just 10 months. “We need to keep these classes,” she testified.
Stuart’s Literacy Coach, Louise Winney, reported that literacy students had an average 92% pass rate for three SOLs: 100% for Algebra I; 81% for Biology; and 95.6% in World History I. Stuart’s Reading Comprehension Program works, Ms. Winney said, and requested “support for all literacy programs in the budgeting process.” Mark Rogers, IB (International Baccalaureate) coordinator at Stuart, testified that proposed fees for IB and AP (Advanced Placement) courses and tests would discourage students from taking the courses, resulting in a program that “will be in danger of becoming elitist…not what any of us want.” Board Chairman Gerry Connolly reminded his colleagues and the audience that the School Board had rejected the Superintendent’s proposal for those fees in their budget. AP Government teacher Eric Welch expressed concern that the Board of Supervisors might begin “tinkering” with the school budget, “trying to find ways to cut, cut, and cut.” Chairman Connolly responded that the Board of Supervisors does not have statutory authority to open up the school budget and make line item changes. The Board only determines the level of the school transfer; the School Board figures out how to use the money.
Support for a third strike team to address ordinance issues around multiple occupancy and building code violations was reiterated by several speakers. Reducing blight and supporting efforts to foster and maintain attractive and safe neighborhoods received high ratings across the county. As noted in previous columns, the Board has proposed an additional $1 million to fund a third strike team and will have further discussions at budget mark-up on April 21. Adoption of the reworked FY 2009 budget is scheduled for April 28.