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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May 12, 2011

That “In the Dark” Feeling

Fairfax County Public Schools ought to take serious notice.  When you tick off the Mount Vernon district, you must have hit a deep nerve.  I used to live at that end of the river.  The folks who live there are among the kindest and most pragmatic people you’ll find in Fairfax County.

So public school officials ought to get realistic about the level of displeasure brewing there over FCPS’ all consuming focus on closing the achievement gap.

Superintendent Dale and School Board Member Dan Stork told a 90+ person crowd last week that FCPS spends an extra $100 million on staffing at schools with poor and non-english speaking children.  The extra staffing permits teams of teachers to focus on a single child.

That message didn’t fly well with parents who still don’t have full-day kindergarten, whose kids are in supersized classes and who want high school English & Social Studies honors courses.  Superintendent Dale’s comments simply reinforced the perception that their kids aren’t a priority with FCPS’ leadership.

One parent stated, “We are all volunteering every day and every night, and killing ourselves for our kids. To say you have a laser focus on kids that need help….that means that everybody else is in the dark.”  

Do you feel like this parent?  Do you feel that your child is “left in the dark?”  It’s an interesting question for School Board candidates heading into the 2011 November elections to ask potential voters.

I suspect parents overall are very satisfied with their individual principals and teachers.  The School Board and Superintendent Dale’s leadership is probably another matter. FCPS’ pursuit to close the achievement gap is admirable and has widespread community support.  However, the School Board and Dale’s failure to recognize the undercurrent of dissatisfaction over the perceived and real lack of equity in resources may cost incumbent School Board members their jobs this November.

Interestingly, for all the proposals put forth in this year’s advertised budget – including funding for employee compensation and full-day kindergarten, there is one glaring omission –reducing class size.   Not a single School Board member has proposed any amendments to reduce class size in the FY2012 budget.

I know my kids are “in the dark” on that one.  And I do place the blame squarely at the feet of my incumbent School Board members Janie Strauss (Dranesville District) and Ilyrong Moon (At-Large) who both represent my schools and are running for re-election.

Strauss is in her second decade of service on the School Board.  Moon has served since 1995.  They both voted for the budget that increased class size in FY 2010.  They both have done ZIPPO to correct class size this year.  At the very least, they could have proposed relief for elementary classes with more than 30 children.   Instead, they have demonstrated zero leadership on this issue.

For those of you also feeling “in the dark” on the class size issue ask yourself:  “Do Jane Strauss, Ilyrong Moon and other long-time incumbents like Dan Stork and Kathy Smith deserve re-election?  Do I want new leadership who will tackle supersized classes for me, my child and their overworked teacher?”

I know how I’m voting!

Related Articles:

Mount Vernon Parents Question Dale and Storck on Honors, Class Size (Patch.com)

Letter:  Fewer Class Options Means Students Are Not Served (Patch.com)

© 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.

April 12, 2011

Hooray Hooray for FDK & … an FCPS Audit?

The Board of Supervisors pulled an interesting play today by approving the following “independent auditor” amendment proposed by Supervisor Pat Herrity:

The Board of Supervisors encourages the Fairfax County School Board

to establish an independent auditor position that would report directly

to the School Board.  The Board of Supervisors has had an

independent auditor since the 1990s and their work has saved millions of

taxpayer dollars and resulted in more efficient delivery of services.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

An independent auditor for Fairfax County Public Schools? When can they start?! If the bi-partisan Board of Supervisors could agree on this common-sense idea, then certainly our School Board can too.  Let’s find out where that $2.2 Billion FCPS budget really goes!

Full-Day Kindergarten advocates should be happy too.  The Board of Supervisors forked over about half of the money needed to complete the FDK roll-out that FCPS never finished – mostly in the form of telling FCPS where to find the money in FCPS’ own budget.

Where is it coming from?

  • There’s $500,000 savings in the county-run SACC (school age child care) program.  This year’s half-day kindergarteners will be next year’s full-day kindergarteners who won’t need afternoon day care – so bingo – there’s 500K in immediate savings.
  • There’s also $641,904 in Cox Cable funding that Supervisors are telling the School Board they can put towards FDK instead.  This may mean the end to a majority of the useless programming that nobody watches on FCPS’ Red Apple Channel 21. One could argue that School Board meetings probably get a decent audience share.  But if you’ve seen the amateur FCPS “talk shows” hosted by FCPS administrators who just love to see themselves on television, then you’ll agree that money is waaaaaayyyyy better spent on educating kindergartners.  It would be most embarrassing if the School Board turns down this idea!
  • Supervisors also identified another $1.9 million in funding for the School Nurse Health Program that they will permit FCPS to use for FDK.  It will be interesting to see how this idea sits with School Board members.  It’s kind of like your rich old uncle giving you a wad of cash for your birthday and telling you to buy a present for your brother or sister with it.  It really isn’t a gift is it?  That’s how I feel about this proposal.  

If using this money for FDK means we lose even more school nurses, then it’s a no-go in my book.  In recent years, school nurses have already taken a large hit as a result of budget cuts. As it stands, there is only one school nurse for every 3000 FCPS students.  FCPS should find the funds for FDK elsewhere instead.

The budget battle now turns to the School Board.  How and where will they come up with the remaining funds for FDK?  How and where will they come up with the funds for the employee raises they’ve promised?  This could be a bumpy ride.

Related Articles:

Fairfax Eyes Cutting School Health Services to Fund Full-Day Kindergarten (The Washington Examiner, 4.2.11)

Fairfax County Budget Increases Fees, Cuts Spending Slighting (The Washington Post 4.12.11)

County Sets Real Estate Tax Rate at $1.07 (The Fairfax County Times 4.12.11)

Fairfax Supervisors Won’t Support Teacher Raises (The Washington Examiner 10.24.10)

© 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.

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 23, 2011

Political Jiu Jitsu for 2011 School Board Elections

It’s not even April yet, and some School Board members are already trying to frame the November elections for School Board.

That tells me one thing – they’re running scared about being replaced by voters.

Their apparent strategy, as outlined in a recent Fairfax Times article, is to falsely depict all challengers as “one-issue” candidates who won’t serve the “whole” community.

Their strategy is also to make “student achievement” the sole focus of any campaign.

Here’s the problem for sitting school board members – the public is generally motivated to vote because of hot-button issues.  And FCPS has served up plenty of hot-button issues the past four years.  (See several outlined below.)

School Board Member Liz Bradsher told the Fairfax Times, “It’s important for whoever runs for the School Board not to be a one-issue candidate because that’s bad for the school system.”

Hmmmm…actually what’s bad for the school system is School Board meetings that violate Virginia’s Open Meetings Law and the Freedom of Information Act – violations that have recently led to expensive court action over the Clifton ES closure.

What’s also bad for the school system is School Board members who are out of touch and fail to be ahead of the curve on issues like FAIRGRADE, discipline reform and administrative spending priorities.

The current crop of School Board challengers aren’t one-issue candidates.  They have proven to be effective parent advocates who use data and evidence to validate their positions.  They use the law (like FOIA), to substantiate their concerns.  They advocate for accountability and transparent decision-making.  Most importantly, the issues they advocate for have all been directly or indirectly related to ‘student achievement.” 

My favorite part of this article is at the end when At-Large School Board member Jim Raney states that having new people on the board with new views can also be a good thing. I’ll second that statement!

Too many School Board members want this job for life. Ilyrong Moon has been on the board since 1995.  Jane Strauss is going on her second DECADE of service.  We need school board members who have kids currently attending our public schools – board members who “get it” and can relate to today’s parents and taxpayers!

No one I speak to wants more super-sized classes, administrators buying plush new buildings for themselves and senseless policies that lead to low teacher and student morale.

New views are good and needed.  That means electing new talent that will help reform-minded board members like Patty Reed.  Running a campaign for School Board is a demanding and expensive commitment.  At the very least, all challenger candidates deserve fair consideration.  If you like what they stand for and what they have accomplished, please give them your help and your vote.  With your support, the public may finally get the School Board we deserve in Fairfax County!

GATEHOUSE II:  In 2007, the School Board voted for a second, new administration building that would have cost $130 million.  Known as the “Gatehouse II” debacle, parent advocates got the project killed by demonstrating the huge holes in FCPS’ business case.

FAIRGRADE:  In 2009, thousands of parents engaged in a year long campaign to convince Dr. Dale and the School Board that previous grading policies were harming college-bound graduates.  The leaders of FAIRGRADE devoted thousands of volunteer hours compiling the research and organizing the effort that finally led to an overhaul of the grading policy – despite the many obstacles thrown out by FCPS officials.

INCREASED CLASS SIZE:  In 2010, the School Board voted to increase class size.  Red Apple Mom readers know class size is a particular sore point for me as my son’s fifth grade class at Spring Hill ES now has 35 students (one student recently went home to Korea), and we have a third grade class with 33 students!   It’s unfair to the kids and the teachers!

INCREASED FEES: Public school became increasingly more expensive in 2010 with new athletic fees, higher parking fees and AP/IB testing fees (now rescinded due to a ruling  by Virginia’s attorney general.) 

PUNITIVE DISCIPLINARY POLICIES: We learned that FCPS’ discipline policies recently contributed to the suicide of a Woodson HS student. The public also learned just how excessively harsh these policies are –“involuntary school transfers”, lack of due process, lack of parent notification and a draconian and aggressive FCPS hearings process that treats Tylenol-takers the same as a drug dealer.  Thanks to the parent advocacy group Fairfax Zero Tolerance Reform (FZTR) these policies may finally get reformed.

FULL-DAY KINDERGARTEN: Until FDK advocates forced the School Board to address the inequity at 37 of FCPS elementary schools, this issue wasn’t even on FCPS’ agenda this year.

TEACHER CONCERNS: From compensation issues to working conditions, FCPS’ teacher workforce has had it.  The ever-increasing demands of assessments and standardized tests and professional development requirements have taken a big toll.  FCPS’ teacher workforce is demoralized with many teachers saying they don’t have time to teach.

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.

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.

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