Earlier this month, this column focused on school funding, and the challenges facing both the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the School Board to provide needed services in the community. Difficult budget decisions triggered some pretty hot reactions. Just before the holiday weekend, Chairman Sharon Bulova and School Superintendent Karen Garza met to clear the air and address mutual challenges, and issued a joint statement acknowledging that everyone cares deeply about the community, our young people, and schools.
As I pointed out in my May 7 column, the Board of Supervisors consistently has increased funding for our schools. The school transfer approved by the Board on April 28 was $66.7 million more than last year’s transfer, for a total of $2.01 billion for FY 2016. However, as the Bulova/Garza statement outlines, continued demands on our school system – enrollment growth, required increases to the state retirement system for teachers, and inequitable state education funding formulas – place serious strain on the resources needed to pay for it all.
As difficult as the FY 2016 budget was, projected shortfalls for both the county and schools makes the FY 2017 budget decisions even more difficult. These shortfalls must be addressed in coming months to allow our professional budget staffs to make recommendations for how to address them. It is exceedingly important that schools and the county continue to work together to find solutions for the increasing demands to protect our quality of life, and maintain education programs and teachers, that have defined Fairfax County.
I met a young mother this weekend as I was visiting a neighborhood near Seven Corners. She was surprised to learn that more than half the county budget – 53 percent – is transferred to schools. She also was surprised to learn that the Board of Supervisors has no operational or administrative authority for schools; those are the legal responsibility of the separately-elected School Board. By the time we finished our conversation, she had a much better understanding of the county/school relationship, and I was glad to correct a lot of misinformation spread during an election year. This is no time for on-the-job training, on the School Board or the Board of Supervisors. Experience counts when faced with such serious budget challenges.
The School Board’s application to build a gym, playground, and other amenities at the Bailey’s Upper Elementary School for Arts and Sciences, at 6245 Leesburg Pike, will be considered by the Board of Supervisors at its meeting on June 23. Originally scheduled for June 2, the consideration of the Proffer Condition Amendment (PCA) has been deferred to June 23 due to an affidavit deficiency by the School Board. The PCA was approved by the Planning Commission on May 21. The original approval of the 1980s office building contained a proffer that no changes would be made to the exterior of the building without approval by the Board of Supervisors. Since classroom seats were the priority, they were built first, so that the lengthier PCA application would not delay relieving overcrowding at Bailey’s Elementary School. The PCA includes a bus drop off and pick up loop, and associated sidewalks and crosswalks. Once approved, construction on the play area could be accomplished this summer.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]