Faced with aging infrastructure and higher demand because of increased enrollments, the Fairfax County School Board requested an increase to its bond funding from $155 million a year to $169 million.
The additional funding would come from previously approved, but still unsold, general obligation bonds under the voter-approved 2007 and 2009 referenda. The School Board voted unanimously to request higher bond funding before Thanksgiving, and met with the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday during a joint meeting to discuss this issue and others facing the school.
“The School Board resolution is asking the Board of Supervisors to issue $169 million in bonds that were authorized but not issued yet from the 2007 and 2009 referenda, but FCPS is still limited in its spending to $155 million per year,” schools spokesman John Torre explained. “The amount requested reflects FCPS' $155 million and $14 million for the county's vehicle maintenance facility renovation that was part of the 2007 referendum (the facility also services school buses).”
The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to authorize the issuance and sale at its meeting on Dec.4.
County officials explained that while the value of bonds issued would remain the same to maintain a responsible level of debt service, the school system was requesting a bigger cut from the bond pie. About two-thirds of bond sales each year are designated for the school system already, said board chairwoman Sharon Bulova (At-large).
“They have tremendous needs for their classrooms, for renovations of their classrooms….But so do we on the county side,” she said, specifying the need to update through renovations aging police stations and public libraries. Giving more of the annual bond funding to schools “would make it more difficult on the county side as far as what we’re able to do [to fund renovations, improvements] … And we don’t want to jeopardize our AAA bond rating.”
County bond rates are set by rating agencies based on the level of debt held by the locality and their ability to pay off debt. While other fiscal years might make approval of the School Board’s request possible, Bulova said uncertainty with federal spending is already impacting revenues in Northern Virginia and Fairfax County.
She said during Tuesday’s joint Board of Supervisors/ School Board meeting county leadership delivered sobering news about the impacts of the federal sequestration and looming fiscal funding cliff.
“Already we’re seeing some of the effects of expected federal cutbacks and that is impacting the recovery we were expecting [from the financial and housing crisis],” Bulova said. The county is projecting a budget shortfall of $170 million in the next fiscal year, which could make it more difficult to deliver increases in county employee compensation and maintaining existing services, she said.
The School Board’s request for additional bond funding is not unusual, said Bulova, adding that the question has come up almost every year. The school system primarily uses bond funding for school construction, purchasing land for schools and renovations, as well as servicing and repairing school buses and vehicles.