A week ahead of voting on the advertised FY 2013 budget, Fairfax County School Board members considered Thursday several amendments that would tailor the plan Superintendent Jack Dale's presented last month, among them, eliminating athletic fees, hiring school board support staff and studying the system's food services.
But some members worried too many of the amendments focused on adding to the budget instead of looking for ways to reduce it.
"There aren’t too many reductions on our list here and I'm very concerned about that," Patty Reed (Providence) said.
Dale's proposal asked f to the school system, which amounts to about $135.4 million. County Executive Anthony Griffin has informally mentioned a 5 percent increase in the county's transfer, which would amount to an increase of about $80 million.
Member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) said she’s spoken with two supervisors who think Dale’s request
"Some members feel we need to present a needs-based budget but I'm very concerned about this $50 million difference and the fact that we’re adding to make it even larger," Reed said.
"I feel pretty confident we'll be able to negotiate this in public view and iron everything out. I don’t get the same sense that we're doing something we should not be doing here," Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill) said.
The school board will vote on the amendments and adopt an advertised budget Feb. 9. Fairfax County Executive Anthony Griffin releases his budget plan Feb. 28.
On Thursday, several board members discussed ways to increase support for the school board office. Dan Storck (Mr. Vernon) proposed adding eight support positions, ideally including one ombudsman. The final structure of those positions, he said, would be left to the board. Board Chair Janie Strauss (Dranesville) proposed adding a single communications position to assist the board in better interacting with and giving information to the public, mostly through online venues.
Early costs for proposals were estimated at $600,000 and $100,00, respectively.
Reed called any plan to add more staffing premature.
“I'd like to suggest we have a small, concise study done by experts who can come in and assess our job responsibilities and make some suggestions about how we might be best organized," she said. "We clearly need some help in order to do our job but [I think we need to] have someone help us do that."
Reed said the previous school board set aside $500,000 that could be used to evaluate the "effectiveness of operations." School staff said Thursday the two studies the board decided to pursue will amount to less than $100,000. What’s left can be used for a staffing study, Dale said.
Other issues the board addressed:
Enrollment — nearly 4,000 more students than last year.
The jump will require about $45.7 million in additional funding. Board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) said while the system needed more money to accommodate that number of students, she wondered if the system could handle the increase with a smaller jump.
Few touched on the proposed pay increases for teachers. McLaughlin asked what exactly the $3.3 million in extended time for teachers would fund. Dale said it was based on a program eliminated several years ago, but how extra classroom and curriculum time would be measured and compensated for still need to be discussed with teachers unions, he said.
Athletic fees were introduced during the board's budget crisis in the late 2000s, members said, and were not intended to be a permanent part of the system's revenue structure.
The fees generated about $1.7 million in revenue last year. Initially, the system said it could remove fees in 2014, but "I think we can do that this year," said Sandy Evans (Mason), who is carrying an amendment that would eliminate the revenue stream and replace it with an increase in the county's transfer.
Ryan McElveen (at-large), who campaigned in part on eliminating those fees, also supported Evans.
Three board members developed amendments to address requests for an overhaul of the system's food services, which includes school lunches.
Real Food For Kids, a Vienna and McLean-based parent group has asked the board for nearly a year to help bring about those changes.
Strauss and McElveen both proposed amendments to conduct a comprehensive study of the current food services system, with McElveen's specifically mentioning the desire for an outside consultant.
Board Member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield)'s amendment asks for funding for a pilot program that implements some of the changes suggested by RFFK and the system’s Nutrition Task Force.
Dale said a pilot program would require a renovation or build out of a kitchen. Schultz suggested Clifton Elementary School as a location for that build out, saying reopening the school and testing a new food program were concurrent opportunities that might work best together.
Doing a build out of an unoccupied kitchen saves time and money, she said; exploring that opportunity at Clifton Elementary School would also give the board a chance to address the consequences of closing the school last June, among them, space issues, the addition of trailers and stresses on the special needs program at the three overflow schools.
Her amendment attempts to address both opportunities at the same time, she said.
- Eliminate the expansion of E-CART(Electronic Curriculum Assessment Resource Tool), which provides teachers approved web-based curriculum, until its effectiveness is measured. This would save $0.3 million. (Hynes)
- Put an "electronic checkbook" for FCPS online, similar to the one that exists for the Virginia State Board of Education (Schultz)
- Set up program that records school board work sessions and meetings and makes them available to residents. Estimated costs includes one-time fee of $12,000 and less than $8,000 a year after that. (Evans)
- Assess the system's pre-kindergarten literacy and kindergarten readiness program. A cost estimate wasn't attached to the study. (Hynes, Tammy Kaufax (Lee).
"Whatever we pass a week from now the community is going to have expectations based on this budget,” and the board needs to be ready to manage and meet them, McLaughlin said.
The board will present and vote on its final amendments at its meeting next Thursday. For a full budget schedule, click here.