With the election of Sharon Bulova to the post of chair of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors Tuesday, the attention at the County Government Center returns to the unsavory process of coping with huge cuts in the upcoming county operating and school budgets.
Bulova edged Supervisor Pat Herrity and two others by about two percent in a low turnout election Tuesday.
Now, among other things, nervous officials whose programs face deep cuts as the Supervisors move to complete the coming fiscal year budget are wondering what Bulova’s campaign pledge to allow no net increase in real estate taxes will mean for them.
With real estate assessments due to come in lower than last year, the Board can hardly hope to hold the line on the tax rate, per $100 of assessed valuation. But Bulova pledged in her campaign that, while the tax rate may have to rise slightly, she’d work to see that Fairfax residents will have to write out checks to pay their taxes no higher than the past year.
For county school officials, in particular, this is worrisome. The school budget recommended by Superintendent Jack Dale last month, and now being mulled by the school board, calls for $10.3 million in cuts below the previous year, despite the fact that it accommodates what is anticipated to be a 5,000 student increase in countywide enrollment. It involves no pay increases for teachers and staff, including no step and no cost-of-living increases.
Yet if Bulova’s pledge of keeping revenues from real estate taxes even with last year means that, at best, no more resources than last year will be available to the schools, then far more severe cuts in vital school programs will be unavoidable.
Without providing teacher, instructional assistant and related increases to accommodate the 5,000 net growth in enrollment, but school budget would be slashed by $157.5 million, and that would result in the elimination of 832 positions.
With less state money coming into the system, as is, the superintendent’s budget already proposes to cut to the bone, decreasing class sizes by an average .5 students per classroom and making 10 to 15 percent cuts over two year in central office-related services, including in the areas of information technology, finance and maintenance.
In addition, cuts in county operating budget line items will impact the schools, such as cuts in the deployment of school resource officers to high schools and middle schools in the county, and in clinic and nurse services provided at the schools through the county health department.
But if additional revenues to pay for the higher enrollment is not provided, then class sizes will have to grow by over two students per classroom, there will be deep cuts in positions, direct layoffs and nothing but basic high school courses will be offered.
Advanced courses, including in languages and math, that do not sign up enough students will simply be dropped.
“I was around the last time we faced such cuts in 1992,” Paul Regnier, media representative for the Fairfax schools, told the News-Press in an interview Tuesday. “But we were in much better shape going in then. We’ve been cutting to the bone the last few years now, and there’s not a lot of give left.”
The superintendent’s proposed budget totals $2.2 billion, covering over 200 schools in the county with 130,000 students and 14,000 teachers.
The final decision on the size of the school system’s budget will be in the hands of the Bulova-led county Board of Supervisors, who will adopt its final numbers at the end of April.
In the meantime, another special election is expected to be held March 10 to fill Bulova’s vacated Braddock District board seat. A “firehouse primary” of at least three Democratic candidates seeking the party’s nomination is set for Feb. 9.