Red Apple Mom

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.

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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.

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© 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.

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© 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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