FCSB conducts midyear review of budget at December school board meeting

 

In the Fairfax County School Board (FCSB) meeting held on December 2, the school board and district employees held the midyear review of the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) FY22 budget, specifically detailing the district’s use of the American Rescue Plan Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III funds.

The ESSER III fund “is to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and address the impacts of COVID-19 on the nation’s students by addressing students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs.” 

FCPS was awarded $188.6 million in ESSER III funds, and in August released a chart with the proposed spending plan of those funds. For funds not going to costs directly related to the pandemic, FCPS will use the money for different technologies, according to its website. 

FCSB Mount Vernon District Representative Karen Corbett Sanders noted that these plans were approved in August, and the review at the early December meeting is to ensure that the midyear catches up with it. 

She also noted during the meeting that Superintendent Scott Braband, is getting clarity on how to report on these specific plans for ESSER funds. 

Chief Operating Officer Marty Smith, who oversees human resources amongst other departments, noted that a position is being added to help the analysis of how ESSER funds are being used. 

“A number of positions funded out of ESSER are funded for multiple years,” Leigh Burden, the assistant superintendent of the department of financial services, said of the funds specifically allocated for new FCPS employment opportunities.  

Descriptions of recommended changes in the budget include security, graduation ceremony costs — which include transportation and live streaming services — special education audit and position authorization. It is yet to be known exactly how these changes will be implemented if they are at all.

Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen noted that the board and FCPS officials will be looking across the division on how best to use these funds for students. 

For graduation, school board members addressed the fundraising efforts that typically go into having these ceremonies at EagleBank Arena on George Mason University’s Fairfax campus. Rather than do this during the pandemic, many schools pivoted to holding ceremonies in their own stadiums, which could be sticking around in the future.   

“We have applied an equity lens,” Braband said of the allocations of funds to each school in relation to graduation, noting that “the schools with the biggest needs got the most money.” 

Corbett Sanders said at the meeting that the ESSER plans will be posted on individual school websites. There will be a more in-depth discussion of these funds in January, with an opportunity for public comment. 

As for funding related to enrollment numbers, the impact of Fairfax County’s decrease in enrollment on the budget is yet to be known. From 2019 to 2021, Fairfax County schools saw a decrease of more than 10,000 students — a 5.4 percent change. 

“Only state funding is directly related to numbers of students. The majority of Virginia state funding provided to public schools is allocated based on the number of students attending public schools. During the pandemic, Virginia held divisions harmless from enrollment losses by providing additional funds to offset any reductions. Moving forward, the Virginia General Assembly will decide whether to continue holding divisions harmless, but their next session does not begin until next year so the impact is currently unknown,” said a spokesman for FCPS. 

 In terms of the budget as a whole, grant expenditures changes align with revenue changes, according to Burden. 

FCPS revenue is going up $3.7 million, and expenditures are $3.7 million — meaning there are no additional funds available, she noted. Funds available from this year will increase the beginning balance of FY23, said Burden.

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