Red Apple Mom

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.

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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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