Red Apple Mom

February 4, 2011

“This Budget Is a Myth.” ~ Tina Hone, FCPS School Board Member

Superintendent Dale Shaking The Money Tree

When I was in high school, my very generous policeman father would leave me and my sister his credit card so we could shop for school clothes on our own.  The credit card always came with this handwritten note, “Remember – Daddy loves his daughters best when they spend like little birds – cheep, cheep, CHEAP!”

What my father meant was:   “I’m trusting you to spend responsibly.  We don’t have a money tree in this house.  Get what you need, but spend wisely.”

Our School Board needs some of my father’s sage advice.   While School Boards around the country are taking a conservative approach with their education budgets, Fairfax County Public Schools is actually adding programs and staff raises without proposing internal budget cuts to pay for the proposals.

FCPS’ political spin paints a rosy economic picture.  Board Chairman Kathy Smith – Sully district – is now out there publicly stating that the Fairfax economy is “recovering”.    Oh really?  Because I just received FCPS’ newsletter “The Bottom Line” which reports that 25.5% of FCPS students are eligible for free and reduced free meals (FRM) and that many parents and guardians who apply for FRM report they are doing so because they have lost their jobs. Since when are growing jobless numbers signs of a recovering economy Chairman Smith?

School Board Chair Kathy Smith

I wonder too if Chairman Smith has looked at a television lately.  Has she or any of the Board members given any thought as to how the chaos in the Middle East may affect FCPS transportation and heating costs next year if gasoline prices spike as expected?

Reality checks in FCPS may not be plentiful but optimism sure is with this School Board.  Dan Storck – Mount Vernon district – keeps pushing FCPS to ask the Board of Supervisors for more and more money saying, “The community will be with us.”

School Board Member Dan Storck

Don’t be so sure Mr. Stork.  75% of county residents don’t have kids in the system.  Do you really believe they’ll be ready to support more taxes when the schools already receive 53% of all county tax revenue?   How about those FCPS families with no jobs on FRM?  How are they going to pay more in taxes?  Of course, there is that other pesky reality that you and several other members seem to ignore – Fairfax County is still facing a $55 million shortfall this next fiscal year!

The taxpayers in this county are already very generous.  So it’s only fair to ask, “Is this really the time to ‘poke the bear’ when the economy is still in a fragile state?”  FCPS currently has a $2.2 BILLION budget.  When you add in other federal funds, the budget is actually closer to $2.5 BILLION.  Put into context, the FCPS annual budget is actually equal to the 2010 reported net profit for Target Corporation! (source:  http://finance.yahoo.com/q/is?s=tgt&annual)

How can $2.2 -$2.5 BILLION be insufficient for meeting the needs of our school children and teachers in Fairfax County?

Just because you’re a world-class school district, it doesn’t mean you get a pass on presenting  “real-world” budget options to your taxpaying community.  Why can’t the Superintendent identify for the public now the program and administrative cuts that may be necessary to fund $48 million in teacher and staff raises and the $8 million needed for Full-Day Kindergarten (FKD) implementation?

This lack of a public plan on the part of the Superintendent and School Board is staggering.  Sadly, the reality of the situation seems to have resonated with only two members of the school board – reformers Patty Reed from the Providence District, and Tina Hone, At-Large member.   Reed called the Superintendent’s budget “unrealistic” in light of the county’s current fiscal situation.  Tina Hone was more blunt saying, “This budget is a myth.”

School Board Member Tina Hone

School Board Member Patty Reed

Hone is right and here’s the real “Bottom Line” on what this myth means for parents and teachers right now:  personal finance decisions for thousands of families will have to remain on hold until later this spring.  Teachers don’t know if they’ll get their raise.  Parents don’t know if they’ll really get FDK leaving moms and dads to wonder if they can go back to work or if they have to make expensive back-up plans for private kindergarten.   Thanks to Superintendent Dale and the School Board, no one will have answers for these critical decisions until late spring.

My father was right.  “We don’t have a money tree.” The real and only solution is for Superintendent Dale to present a realistic budget alternative – a “Plan B” for how FCPS will pay for FDK and teacher raises if the Board of Supervisors won’t give the School Board more money.     Come on FCPS – don’t make us wait until the spring.  Do your job.  Make the tough decisions now and make those decisions public.

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