F.C. School Board Hears GMHS Student Concerns for Parking Fees

The Falls Church Public School issued a release today about a meeting last Friday between School Board chairman Joan Wodiska, Board members Kieran Sharpe and Susan Kearney and students at George Mason High School. The topic was increased parking fees for the 2010-2011 school year. Last spring, the School Board unanimously voted to increase parking fees from $100 to $200 to help fund the district’s operations.

According to the School Board release, in her opening statement to the students, Wodiska explained that the School Board and City Council were confronted by a serious Fiscal Year 2011 budget gap resulting from a decline in state and local property and sales tax, a situs tax issue with Fairfax County, and the loss of a water system lawsuit with Fairfax County. The condition was compounded by growing student enrollment and the generally poor state of the economy. Wodiska explained that the School Board based their decision on two overarching principles: 1) keep cuts away from the classroom and 2) be equitable and fair determining who would bear pain. In doing so, the School Board would ask more of everyone to fund public education and ensure a world-class education for every student in Falls Church.

Wodiska described the choices and trade-offs the School Board had to make in crafting the FY2011 budget. For example, the School Board rejected draconian cuts to eliminate full-day kindergarten, art, or music.  However, as a result, no school staff received raises, some staff members experienced a reduction in their take home pay or benefits, and positions were eliminated system-wide. She also gave students some additional facts to consider:

• More than eighty-five percent (85%) of the School Board’s budget goes to pay salaries and benefits for school staff

• City taxpayers provide $13,357 for each and every student and total School Board spending is $16,858 per student (average US expenditure 2007-2008 was $10,259 compared to $18,000 in Falls Church)

• Falls Church taxpayers will invest more than $200,000 for each student who attends 13 years of school here

In a quest to ensure a world-class education for every student, Wodiska explained, the School Board also explored ways to increase revenue or income to support schools.  The School Board compared FCCPS parking fees with our neighbors and found that fees had not been raised in more than 10 years and that George Mason Parking fees were below our neighbors. For all these reasons, the School Board unanimously agreed to increase parking fees to $200 a year (a $100 increase) to raise an estimated revenue of $7,500. This increase came with new School Board policy that any student qualifying for free or reduced price meals would be eligible for a confidential, free parking fee waiver for childcare or employment reasons. Any student or family needing a waiver should see Principal Byrd.

Wodiska explained that funding public education is a shared responsibility and that everyone must do their part to help ensure the high quality of our schools. She then invited students to make public comment and closed the meeting with her gratitude for their civil approach to raising an issue and problem solving. Wodiska encouraged students to stay engaged and continue to advocate for their education.She also invited students to be creative and identify savings in the school system to help reduce the new parking fees. She emphasized that they should work together to address students’ concerns. She finished by providing the School Board meeting schedule to gather their additional comments.

Mason Principal Tyrone Byrd and Wodiska will be hold future meetings with students to brainstorm ways to save money and, hopefully, roll back parking fees, according to the School Board release.