Red Apple Mom

November 20, 2011

FCPS Survey Results Cost How Much?

On Monday, Superintendent Dale is releasing the results of a survey about public trust and confidence in the Fairfax County Public Schools.

I’m sure you can guess where this is going to go.  Cue the cheerleaders and the band.  Several sources sent me a copy of the FCPS survey results, but I won’t  post the full report until after Dale’s press conference on Monday.   Here are some details I will share:

Focus group comments from the 2011 survey results (slide 29) show that stakeholders are concerned about the following areas of improvement for FCPS:

  • Concerns that FCPS is becoming a business and not a community-parent based institution.
  • Some initiatives go under the radar such as the decreasing honors program in the district.
  • Too much trimming on the budget and parents do not know how decisions are being made on these items (this includes the thought process for and not only who is making decisions)
  • Schools are not being treated equally in terms of funding, programming and class-sizes

The FCPS survey was conducted by the District Management Council.  This is the same consulting group that surveyed FCPS stakeholders in the fall of 2009.   DMC’s  survey findings at that time showed “a lack of confidence in the Administration’s ability to allocate resources.”  It’s interesting that the focus group comments detailed above seem to indicate the public still has a lack of confidence about FCPS’ resource allocations.

Think the press will ask the tough questions about these results tomorrow?   Or will they parrot back FCPS’ carefully crafted press release?  I’m betting on the latter.  But just in case, here are some questions the press should consider asking the Superintendent.

1.  How much did FCPS pay to the District Management Council (DMC) for this survey?

2. Does FCPS have a consulting contract with the DMC – and if so, for how much?    DMC has done a lot of work for FCPS the past couple of years and lists several case studies about their work for FCPS on their website.  Here’s one called:  Improving Budget Communications with the Community:  Fairfax County Public Schools.  DMC doesn’t list their consulting fees on their website.  But earlier this year, Lancaster County in Pennsylvania paid the DMC $75,000 for help in improving its schools.  One Lancaster taxpayer posted a comment saying, “Wow – these administrators are being paid top dollar at the taxpayers expense to run the school district and they have to hire a firm to tell them how to do it.”  Lancaster is a small district compared to Fairfax County, so what are we paying?!

3.  In the interest of transparency, will FCPS release all the raw data for this survey?  Will newly elected School Board members who campaigned on the issue of transparency have access to the raw data?

4.  What is FCPS’ plan to address the needed areas of improvement as identified by the surveyed stakeholders?

Related Articles:

Price Tag for Ann Arbor Public Schools Consultant:  $441,130 (June 14, 2011 – AnnArbor.com)

Seminole Schools Spend a Bundle on Education Consultants (August 31, 2010 – Orlando Sentinel)

Boston Schools Seek Pricey Consultant (September 26, 2011 – Fox 25 Boston, MA)

$1 Million Survey on Newark Public School Reform Proves Inconclusive (January 6, 2011 – Dana Goldstein-The Nation)

More Consultant Spending Approved at January PEP Meeting (January 25, 2011 – NYC Public School Parents Blog)

Stimulus Leads to Frenzy of Demand for Consultants (January 28, 2011 – Edmoney.org)

The District Management Council Homepage

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10 Comments

  1. Catherine,
    You ask the question, “What is FCPS’ plan to address the needed areas of improvement as identified by the surveyed stakeholders?
    Asking this question implies that you think this survey provides useful information and it was worth the expenditure. It also implies that you might want to have a follow-up survey a few years from now to see whether future respondents think adequate improvements have been made.
    I can think of far more useful questions than the ones posed here. It would be nice to have a professional survey of community members to find out whether they want to continue the current policy of dismissing elementary school students two hours early every Monday. (Today is one of the Monday early dismissal days. Two days from now we will have another two-hour early dismissal for all students prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.Fairfax County is very committed to early dismissals.) I would also like to know how many people think that 10 minutes is an adequate amount of time for recess.

    Comment by Virginia Fitz Shea — November 21, 2011 @ 11:46 am

    • 10 minutes is not adequate, and is probably in violation of Virginia law. You should be able to do something about that.

      The early dismissal Wednesday is not ideal – I think most of us would prefer no school at all, given the travel headaches faced by students and staff alike. Unfortunately we have not been able to get the school board to bite on that, the best they will offer is an early release.

      Comment by cosmic93 — November 22, 2011 @ 9:16 pm

    • I do agree with the comments raised by the focus group participants. While the survey methods used by the DMC and FCPS are no doubt questionable, the focus group raised legitimate concerns – particularly, in my opinion, with regards to resource allocations and class size. Jane Strauss – FCPS’ School Board chairman – promised to address the grossly oversized class sizes in the Dranesville district during her campaign. Let’s see if she’ll put her money where her mouth is. Parents like me who have experienced class sizes of 35+ students want to know “what is the plan and when will it be implemented?” If no one asks, these issues of concern will fall into an abyss an remain unaddressed.

      Comment by Red Apple Mom — November 23, 2011 @ 9:18 am

  2. I’ve got to reply to three of your bulleted observations:
    1. You can only blame the GOP for demanding that schools, like all public services, be run “more like a business.” Isn’t that exactly what you wanted? Or are you willing to acknowledge that running the government like you run a business is actually a colossally bad idea?
    2. “Trim the fat,” conservatives say. Well, one man’s fat is another man’s essential core service. In fact, the whole “trim the fat” concept is a poor analogy, as the human body can’t live without it. But maybe that’s another story. I wholeheartedly agree that there has not been enough transparency in the process. But you HAVE to accept that some of the cuts will affect you, because every penny the schools spend affects somebody.
    3. Equal treatment is hardly the point. It is FCPS’ job to ensure that all students have a decent chance at success. Giving all schools the same base formula of staffing and supplies without regard to their unique challenges would not only be unfair, it would ultimately be a false economy. I think what you’re really trying to say is, ‘restore privilege to the rich, and stop trying to help those impoverished children so much. They don’t deserve it.”

    Comment by cosmic93 — November 22, 2011 @ 9:14 pm

    • Decent class size is not a “privilege to the rich” Cosmic93. ALL children deserve a learning environment that provides them the opportunity to get the attention and resources they need to succeed. No poor child attending Fairfax County Public Schools is shortchanged in the services they receive. The same cannot be said for children in other parts of the county. FCPS is using children in some parts of the county to shoulder the burden for other children. Adults should be shouldering that burden. There is plenty of excess to cut in Central Administration so that all children can get the services they deserve and that their parents pay for in the form of public taxes. If you want to continue with this system of “education by zipcode”, you will eventually see a decline in the support of public education.

      Comment by Red Apple Mom — November 23, 2011 @ 9:10 am

      • Decent class size doesn’t have to come at the expense of lower-income children, as many of your candidates proposed. I agree that it’s not a privilege – but the test score demonstrate that children in wealthy schools are, in fact, getting exactly what they need. If you’re willing to expand the definition of a ‘quality education’ to go BEYOND standardized test score – I, for one, would entirely agree. Socialization is suffering across the board. However, the conservative movement has demanded that reading and math proficiency be the sole measures used in determining a school’s success. And by those measures, unfortunately, the wealthier schools don’t need more.
        The economic balkanization of Fairfax County, whereby low-income housing is simply unwelcome in many neighborhoods, is the TRUE ‘education by zip code.’

        Comment by cosmic93 — November 30, 2011 @ 10:03 pm

  3. I’m also pretty sure that if FCPS didn’t hire outside consultants, many of your reform-minded friends would demand that they do so. You’re obviously so unhappy with the system as a whole, one would think you’d welcome their seeking outside advice.

    Comment by cosmic93 — November 22, 2011 @ 9:19 pm

    • I doubt that. As the taxpayer in Lancaster County pointed out, we also have plenty of high-paid administrators making six-figure salaries in Fairfax County who were hired for their expertise to address these public education issues. If FCPS wants to hire high-priced consultants – fine, but get rid of the dead-weight administrators who aren’t or can’t do the job themselves.

      Comment by Red Apple Mom — November 23, 2011 @ 9:12 am

  4. Can you name specific dead-weight administrators who ought to go? This is the type of demand that usually carries a lot of implied meaning, but rarely can the accusers provide specific examples of the employees and functions that should be eliminated. I know that gets personal – but it has to. If you’re going to call people out as incompetent, start naming names so we can put a price tag on it and find out how many teachers that money could buy.

    Comment by cosmic93 — November 30, 2011 @ 10:06 pm

    • Sure – Peter Noonan – Head of Instructional Services. Barbara Hunter, Head of Communications. Dean Tisdadt, Head of Facilities. And of course, Jack Dale.

      Comment by Red Apple Mom — December 2, 2011 @ 9:18 am


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