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As longtime sponsors of the Fairfax County Spelling Bee, we’re always amazed by the poise, determination and brainpower of our youngest residents.

With headlines and news programs focused on subjects like sequestration, budget shortfalls and tax hikes, this week’s spelling bee was both a breath of fresh air and validation that the future is not all gloomy.

For nearly three hours Tuesday night, 62 spellers — a handful under the age of 10 — calmly strolled up to a microphone at Sidney Lanier Middle School and pounded out four- and five-syllable words that might have made a seasoned English professor pause.

Preparing for a spelling bee — whether it involves a single classroom or an entire county — helps students gain a deeper understanding of languages and the origin of words.

Spelling bees also provide a solid foundation in achieving long-term education and career goals. The same can be said for geography bees, science fairs and any other endeavor that requires patience, preparation and discipline. Whether their futures involve medicine, law, marketing or media, those are skills that will serve students well.

We’d also like to send a big thank you to the hundreds of parents, teachers and volunteers who made Tuesday’s competition — and dozens of preliminary qualifying bees earlier this winter — a possibility.

Finally, a good luck wish to two-time bee champion Jae Canetti, a fifth grader at Hunters Woods Elementary who’ll represent Fairfax County at the Scripps National Spelling Bee later this spring.

A delicate balancing act

Last week, the opening salvo was fired in the annual skirmish between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors.

The conflict between the two bodies is institutional, one might even say designed for balance.

The Board of Supervisors is often elected with the mission to keep the tax burden manageable, while the School Board is selected to ensure that we have the best schools possible. Getting the two boards to reach a consensus is not an easy task — but it happens every year.

The supervisors are quite right when they say we are still in tough economic times and people are looking for relief. And with that in mind, they’ve made some tough choices — some for the right.

In the coming weeks, the Board of Supervisors’ budget committee will begin poring over the $2.5 billion school budget for fiscal 2014.

Late last month, County Executive Ed Long proposed a 1.5 percent increase, roughly $51 million in county general fund spending, to accommodate future enrollment growth.

The School Board countered by saying the current budget doesn’t adequately address salary increases for teachers and staff, expansions of critical programs and the rising cost of state mandated Virginia Retirement System changes.

“I’m hopeful the Board of Supervisors will recognize that the School Board’s advertised budget is not a wish list but rather a modest plan that addresses immediate classroom needs,” said FCPS Superintendent Jack Dale.

In defense of Long and the Board of Supervisors, the primary function of local government is providing services — such as schools, libraries and police and fire departments — in a sound, fiscally responsible manner.

Alternatively, making cuts on the backs of Fairfax County’s children and talented teachers is never the right answer. If budget reductions are required, they’ve got to be made in a smart, tailored way. Use a scalpel instead of a machete. Through the years, most neutral observers would give the Board of Supervisors relatively high marks for being sensitive to the school system’s needs.

That said, we should do our utmost to keep taxes under control. It’s one of the gauges businesses and new residents will use to determine whether moving to Fairfax is a good idea.

Even so, there is a counterbalance required in keeping our schools top notch. People move to Fairfax to raise their kids and the superior school system we have is part of the reason for that.

And while businesses certainly look at the tax rates, the savvy ones are also looking at quality of life issues — like the schools. The reason is, they want to see a pipeline of future employees and they want to ensure they won’t lose top talent who are moving away for the sake of their own children’s education.