In school cafeterias, lecture halls and libraries across the county, School Board members, education advocates and parents met this week to hash out their views on the county and school budgets ahead of the public hearings.
The School Board will present the school system’s $2.5 billion budget to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday at 6 p.m., trying to convince the supervisors to provide more funding to schools.
The School Board’s presentation will kick off three days’ worth of public hearings. The first public hearing starts with the School Board on April 8, and the other two follow at 3 p.m. on April 9 and April 10.
The county’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 currently includes a 2 percent increase in school funding, but that falls about $64 million short of Superintendent Karen Garza’s request for a 5.7 percent increase from the county.
Even with state funding expected to cover about $30 million of that gap, the school system would be left to make more than $30 million in additional cuts should the county budget go through as is. Already, the school budget features cost-saving measures including class-size increases and staffing reductions, leaving school advocates clambering to avoid further cuts.
School Board members Dan Storck (Mount Vernon) and Chairman Ilryong Moon (At-large) met Wednesday night with a small group of community members and representatives of local education organizations to discuss the budget. Storck and Moon listened and answered questions as people worked their way through their opinions on the budget situation.
At the same time, North Springfield Civic Association held a community meeting at North Springfield Elementary School with their School Board representative, Megan McLaughlin (Braddock), to clear up their questions on the budget.
These two meetings were just the latest in a long string of budget talks dotted throughout the county since the start of the year. And as the budget process heated up in March, the calendar became even more crowded, as School Board members and county supervisors went out into their districts for town hall meetings and question-and-answer sessions.
Now, with the end in sight - the Board of Supervisors will vote on the final budget on April 29 - citizens are trying to get in their last word, either at meetings or at the public hearings.
“We need to get out there,” said Shaista Keating, the mother of two Fairfax County students. “We need to show the supervisors that investing in our schools is the most important thing we can do.”
Still, budget exhaustion can set in. Kimberly Adams serves as president of the Fairfax Education Association, which represents teachers and other school system employees, and she said years of budget back-and-forth accompanied by stagnating salaries have left teachers battle weary.
“It can be hard to get teachers to come out to the public hearings,” Adams said. “They’re tired, they’re broken. They don’t believe that they can make a difference.”
Teachers’ worries are not unwarranted. Right now, the school budget includes $41 million to put toward raises for most school employees, but if the county cannot find funding to spare for FCPS, the salary increases could be at risk.
Still, even in a tight budget year for the county and schools, Storck encouraged people passionate about education not to give up.
“We know this is not a single-year project,” Storck said. “This is a multi-year project. But we want to take a step now to actually fix this issue and make progress for next year.”