A joint committee of the Fairfax County School Board and Board of Supervisors led the county government to commit to increased funding for school renovations. After seeing the fruits of the collaborative labor, School Board members are hungry for more.
At its meeting last Thursday, the School Board unanimously approved a report by the Infrastructure Financing Committee that pledges more county funds for the school system’s construction needs. The Board of Supervisors approved the same report at its March 25 meeting.
School Board members, pleased by the report, also unanimously decided to request from the Board of Supervisors a continuation of the temporary committee to seek more shared solutions to the school district’s renovation and construction backlog.
“This gets us on a good path, but I don’t think our work is done,” said School Board member Kathy Smith (Sully), co-chair of the committee. “Yes, $13 million will help, but we have great needs.”
The Infrastructure Financing Committee, formed in April 2013, brought together three School Board members and three county supervisors to review the facilities needs of both the school system and the government.
The committee report, released in February, directs the county to invest an additional $13.1 million each year into school renovations starting in fiscal year 2016. That money will be on top of the bond funding and county funding already provided to the school system, and will be used for repair and replacement of roofs, elevators, heating and cooling systems and other similar needs.
Payment for such projects would currently fall under the school system’s $155 million in annual bond funding. Starting in 2016, that $13.1 million will be freed up for major renovation projects.
Enrollment growth in the school system has left some buildings bursting at the seams, leaving the school system to play catch up with construction projects.
In the past five years, the student population has grown by almost 15,000 students. Even with new schools and renovations to add classroom seats, FCPS has not been able to keep pace. More than 900 trailers are in use at schools across the county this year, and 15 schools operate at least 15 percent over capacity.
Smith said the additional money from the county would allow the school system to get to a few more smaller renovation projects, but would still leave a lot of work to be done. According to school officials, a school renovation can range from $14 million for an elementary school to more than $85 or $90 million for a high school.
The Infrastructure Finance Committee did open up other funding solutions for schools. Its report set a goal for the county to put an additional $20 million per year toward county and school facilities needs. This money would be split between the county, schools and parks.
Further, the committee recommended that both the school system and the county establish “capital sinking funds” for major maintenance and put a portion of unused year-end dollars into those funds.
The School Board, though, worried that all the recommendations in the report would not be enough to support their renovation and construction requirements in the long-term, which pushed the Board to seek more cooperation from the Board of Supervisors.
Though the report from the Infrastructure Financing Committee was supposed to represent the finish line for that group, School Board members hope the supervisors will also want to see its work continue.
“I hope this is the beginning of some true partnerships, where we look as one organization at the county’s challenges and come up with solutions that can benefit everyone in the county,” said School Board member Patty Reed (Providence).