Close to 50 people spoke out at a public hearing Monday night on the proposed school budget.
Parents, students and teachers alike took up arms, pushing for their desired changes to the budget before the School Board finalizes the document. At the same time, most also looked beyond this preliminary battle and started firing shots in the larger war for county funds.
The School Board votes next Thursday, Feb. 6, on the $2.5 billion proposed budget for next school year.
Speakers on Monday advocated for funding for their own causes, from pre-K programs to later school start times. But an underlying thread through the testimonies was the larger issue of getting more money from the county.
The proposed budget includes the request for a significant increase in taxpayer dollars. Whether the school system receives the influx of cash will be decided by the county Board of Supervisors in April.
That deadline loomed large at the School Board’s public hearing. Speakers found the extensive reductions in the budget already hard to swallow, particularly downsizing summer school and increasing class size. And they recognized that without the Board of Supervisors’ support deeper cuts will come.
“Is the budget perfect?” asked Steve Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers. “Of course not. It can’t be, because we’ve been underfunded by the county supervisors for years.”
In the past five years, the school system has received an average increase in funding of 1.1 percent from the previous year. Superintendent Karen Garza has said that this is not enough to keep pace with the 9 percent growth in enrollment over the same period.
“Dr. Garza’s budget is the best lemonade anyone could possibly make, considering the rotten lemons we’ve been given,” Greenburg said.
This year’s budget sees reductions of $96.5 million, paired with a request for a $98.1 million increase in funding from the county.
“This budget asks the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to meet the school system halfway,” said Kevin Hickerson, a teacher at Chantilly High School and vice president of the Fairfax Education Association. “What a novel concept.”
Yet even Pollyanna would have trouble believing that the school system will see the requested $98.1 million, 5.7 increase over last year. Members of the Board of Supervisors have said that anything more than a 2 percent increase is a pipe dream.
Still, if the supervisors stick to the expected $34.3 million, 2 percent increase, the school system will need to find additional budget cuts to make up a $60 million deficit.
“Our pleas have fallen on deaf ears not in the School Board but rather in the Board of Supervisors,” said Alexa Krezel, mother of an incoming kindergartener. “We cannot afford this year to let it go by and say, ‘Darn, we didn’t get the increase.’ They must come to realize that education is a key component to the quality of life in Fairfax County.”