Red Apple Mom

May 16, 2011

From Chicken Little to Santa Claus

It may look like May outside, but it’s feeling like Christmas now because Superintendent Dale is playing Santa Claus.  HO, HO, HO…

Full Day Kindergarten – funded! 

FCPS Employee Raises – funded!

And today, Superintendent Dale informed the School Board that he’s also “found” the money to provide summer school services.  So add that to the list too.

Summer School – funded!

So where exactly has the Superintendent “found” all the money to pay for these programs and raises?   Hmmmm…looks like FCPS was squirreling away millions in funds somewhere!

It’s been interesting to watch Superintendent Dale go from behaving like Chicken Little to becoming Santa Claus on the school budget.

From December through April, the picture he painted for the public was bleak.  You know, the whole “sky is falling” bit.

The Board of Supervisors didn’t fall for it.  Lots of taxpayers didn’t either.  And there were plenty of questions about why FCPS was carrying over nearly $50 million from FY2011 into the FY2012 advertised budget while pleading poverty.

And guess what?  Supervisors and taxpayers were right.

Dale’s “Chicken Little” budget talk was nothing but theatrics – again.

Word on the street is with FY2011 winding down, Superintendent Dale is now telling principals to spend their carryover funds.   (Could he be concerned about a push by the Board of Supervisors for an audit of FCPS’ books?!)

However, rather than spend carryover funds on equipment principals may not want or need right now, I’d like to see “Santa Dale” use that money to reduce class size in areas with 30 or more students.  Come on Superintendent, don’t you have at least one more gift left in that $2.2 billion budget?!

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March 30, 2011

Parents, Teachers & Five-Year Old Lobbyists

The Board of Supervisors held their first night of public hearings Tuesday night.  Adorable four and five-year olds were  in the audience with their parents and teachers advocating for increased education funding and teacher pay raises.

My remarks to Supervisors focused on the fact that FCPS should scrap their budget and re-build it.  We deserve a budget that focuses on the community’s priorities first – not administrative spending.  Here is my speech:

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Budget Hearings

March 29, 2011- Advertised 2012 Budget

Hello.  My name is Catherine Lorenze.  I am a co-founder of the Fairfax Education Coalition and FAIRGRADE and author of the Red Apple Mom blog. I am speaking for myself tonight – as the mother of three children.

When the School Board passed their budget last month, Member Patty Reed said it was “unrealistic.”  Tina Hone called FCPS’ budget “a myth.”  Member Jim Raney commented that perhaps the budget should be scrapped and rebuilt from scratch.

A lot of promises have been made on FDK and staff raises.

Now you must decide if FCPS’ promises are your responsibility to solve.

Please look at the funding statement located on page 147 of FCPS’ advertised budget that I have attached.  This statement shows a nearly $48 million reserve.

I hope you’ll ask serious questions about why FCPS is carrying over tens of millions of dollars going into next year.  Why were those funds not used this year to meet critical priorities?   Money sitting in a pot doesn’t serve the interests of school children and teachers.

I can’t help but wonder if FCPS is giving the community and you all the facts about this budget.  I attended the meeting between your two boards a couple of weeks ago.  When discussing the FDK issue, Supervisor Hudgins specifically asked school officials if any other programs had been implemented or expanded during the time FDK implementation was halted.  They answered no.  In fact, while FDK languished – the School Board voted to expand the Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools Program.  And last year, they implemented a new program called the Priority Schools Initiative.

I agree with School Board member Jim Raney’s suggestion.  FCPS should scrap this budget and re-build it based on the public’s priorities which include FDK, teacher pay and importantly – lowering class size.   Last year, our school had a sixth grade class with 39 students.  This year, my son’s 5th grade class at Spring Hill Elementary currently has 35 students.  It has the feel of a poultry farm.  When it gets hot and stuffy, it smells like a poultry farm too.

My request to take a picture of his crowded classroom was denied by my principal.  However, I have attached a photo from nearby Churchill Elementary School that continues to also experience ridiculously large class sizes.

Regrettably, FCPS has allowed a subset of children in this county to shoulder the burden of budget cuts by way of super-sized class sizes.  This is simply unfair.

Please remember this when considering the FCPS budget transfer:   children and teachers deserve a budget that is focused on them and their needs first – not on Gatehouse staff whose work has minimal impact on my children and their teachers.

If kids are the priority FCPS claims them to be – then FCPS should reflect that in their budget priorities with reasonable class size and FDK.  FCPS should put their money where their mouth is, rather than making you absolve them of their fiduciary responsibility as recipients of 54% of the county budget.

MENTIONED MATERIALS:

March 16, 2011

Funding Signposts on Teacher Raises & FDK

Good news and bad news for FDK advocates – the Board of Supervisors (BOS) all want FDK, but it seems they don’t want to pay for it.  Based on BOS Chairman Sharon Bulova’s comments at Tuesday’s joint budget meeting with the FCPS School Board, it doesn’t appear that funding from the county for teacher raises will happen either.

Full-Day Kindergarten

There was no mention of Supervisor Gerry Hyland’s proposed amendment to fund Full Day Kindergarten from the Board of Supervisors purported $30 million in surplus funds resulting from unexpected increases in corporate taxes.

Hyland may not have mentioned it because we learned at this meeting that the county does not really have a surplus.  They are, according to the county executive, $26 million in the hole.  Full Day Kindergarten costs $7.3 million.

Supervisors questioned FCPS officials about how big a priority FDK was for the school system.  Dr. Dale told Supervisors he was looking at a three-year implementation for FDK at a cost of $2+ million per year.  That didn’t sit well with Supervisors John Foust or Cathy Hudgins.

Joint Meeting - Board of Supervisors, Superintendent Dale & FCPS School Board

“It is a basic service.  Folks have been expecting it for long time.  It is a matter of equity.  You shouldn’t be looking at three years (to implement FDK),” said Foust.  He added, “In a $2.2 billion budget you shouldn’t be trying to find 2 million – you have to find it all.  Something else might have to give.”

Cathy Hudgins said of FDK, “It’s the foundation of the system and not ‘when we get to it.’”

FCPS repeatedly states that the economic downturn is to blame for not completing the FDK roll-out that began in earnest in 2006.  However, in spite of the recession’s onset, the School Board did, in fact, vote to expand the FLES program (foreign language in the elementary schools).

I’m a dual language speaker and support foreign language instruction.   But if FDK has always been FCPS’ priority, why were they expanding programs that serve only 10% of the student population rather than implement FDK in more schools?  I’m posing the question because several members of the public posed that exact question to FCPS when they voted to expand FLES a few years ago.  Everyone seems to be giving FCPS a pass that the recession is solely to blame for not fully implementing FDK.  It’s not and that is a fact.  They had options.

FDK advocates (and I’m one of them) will have to really turn up the heat on FCPS to make FDK happen this year.  Even then, it may still prove to be an internal budget battle on FCPS’s turf.  At-Large School Board member Tina Hone told Supervisors, “I will be asking to restore summer school before funding the full roll-out of FDK.”

Employee Compensation:

Board of Supervisor Chairman Sharon Bulova didn’t dance around on FCPS’ request for an additional $48 million for employee compensation increases, stating, “There is a major disconnect between our two budgets.”

Bulova has equity concerns for county employees like police, firemen and librarians..  She said, “Is it right for an employee to get an increase on one side of the house when we can’t on the other side of the house?  We aren’t out of the woods yet (on the recession).”

How is the superintendent going to handle this one?    Before parents resurrected the FDK issue, the number one priority for the School Board was staff and teacher raises.  I know for a fact that teacher morale is already low.  I speak to a lot of teachers in my advocacy work and I know their increased workloads are really tough.  The student body brings so many challenges from special ed to non-english speaking and poor students.  In addition, teachers today are faced with an endless flow of assessment and testing requirements.  Our school system is great because of our quality teacher workforce. We have a great curriculum too but without great teachers, the curriculum alone can’t maintain FCPS’ fine reputation.

So here comes the reality check.  The supervisors acknowledged their appreciation of all school employees, but I didn’t hear anything in this meeting to indicate the school system should expect more.  FCPS already receives 53 cents of every county tax dollar as part of the $2.2 Billion FCPS budget.

That means it will be up to taxpayers, parents and teachers to hold FCPS’ feet to the fire in upholding the School Board’s promises on FDK and teacher compensation.

Teachers Rally for Compensation Issues on Tuesday

As Supervisor Foust told Dr. Dale, “Something else may have to give.”  What “gives” still remains to be seen, however, since Dr. Dale has provided no indication to date of how he would pay for FDK and/or employee raises.

Looks for things to heat up soon.  Lots of promises have been made.  It’s also an election year and a number of School Board members have serious campaign challengers.

RELATED ARTICLES

© Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom, 2001. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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.

January 20, 2011

Political Plays With Kindergarteners & Turnips

No school district would dare deny 30 percent of its students the right to play sports simply based on their wealth right?   So why is it ok for a school district to deny 30% of the Fairfax County kindergarten population access to full-day kindergarten simply because these schools are in wealthy areas of the county?  All kids benefit from full-day kindergarten – not just poor kids!

Of the 126 elementary schools in Fairfax County, 37 are still without full-day kindergarten.  To compound the problem, the Fairfax County school district has a shortened day on Mondays.  So the kindergarteners at those 37 schools with half-day kindergarten are in class for a whopping 2 hours and 5 minutes.  That’s not the “world-class” education many people bought into when they moved their families to Fairfax County for the public schools.

Several FCPS school board members have publicly seized on this issue in the past couple months.  And I would applaud them for their efforts if it weren’t for the fact that this appears to be a self-indulgent political play for their re-election campaigns this November.   Ultimately, this is about young children and it’s also about providing equal services to the entire county when it comes to public education.  A noble cause indeed but one that definitely has politics written all over it and here’s why:

These very same school board members who are suddenly showing deep public concern about this issue now, had ample opportunity in the past few years to bring FDK to at least some of these 37 schools.  They claim the money wasn’t there in the budget.  But gosh, that didn’t stop them when they proposed buying themselves a new $130 million administrative building in 2008.  And it didn’t stop them when they decided to expand a once-a-week, 45 minute foreign language program in the elementary schools a few years back.  And it hasn’t stopped them from continuing to buy expensive new technology and computer upgrades for the school district either.

This isn’t about budget constraints.  If they really wanted full-day kindergarten by now, this School Board could have had it.  But they haven’t been willing to make the necessary spending cuts that would free up funds to make it happen.  The fact is, seizing on this issue now is an election year political play.

At a meeting of local officials with FDK supporters Tuesday night, Board of Supervisor member John Foust stated, ” “Full-day kindergarten in all schools costs $8 million?  I think we have room in a $2.2 billion budget to go forward.” What many in the applauding crowd failed to grasp, however, is that Foust was NOT referring to the Board of Supervisor’s budget.  Foust was referring to the School Board’s $2.2 BILLION budget.  Without embarrassing the attending school board members, he was basically telling the crowd that the Board of Supervisors feels FCPS already has the money in their school budget to fund FDK and they aren’t likely to receive additional funds from the Board of Supervisors.  How could they?  The Board of Supervisors is facing a $50 million budget shortfall this year!

Need more proof that politics is at play?  At a community budget meeting Wednesday night in McLean, School Board member Janie Strauss of the Fairfax County Dranesville district repeatedly said the School Board is directing the Superintendent to “squeeze the turnip” and “with hope” they can find the funds to implement FDK.

Hmmmm…that’s funny.  Up to that point, her comments about the budget focused on how FCPS has  already cut themselves to the bone, so what’s left to” squeeze in that turnip” Mrs. Strauss?  And if there was anything left to “squeeze”, why did the School Board run to the Board of Supervisors last summer for an emergency $2 million request to fund the Priority Schools Initiative for at-risk schools?

Once again, where our school district has failed to take action on important policies, it has fallen to the wonderful parents in this county to raise the sound of alarm.  And in doing so, is requiring countless hours on their part to  jump-start a debate that should have taken place years ago.  And, by the way, these same parents are devoting all these hours of advocacy while holding down jobs, raising their young children and entertaining their kindergartener for half of the day when they are not in school.

But keep the hope alive School Board because in times of budget constraints, hope costs nothing right?  Unfortunately, “hope” requires a lot of work in Fairfax County Public Schools.   Parents shouldn’t have to go to these lengths to effect change.  And if it turns out that “squeezing the turnip” yields nothing, parents still have one final card they can play.  Come November, elect new people to the School Board who are focused on results rather than “hope” and turnips!

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