FCPS is the 11th largest school district in the United States. FCPS operates with $2.5 billion operating budget, educates 180,000 students, and employs 24,000 staff members.
For the next fiscal year (2015) FCPS faces a $140 million shortfall. The shortfall is a result of increasing students ($25 million) and rising costs for Virginia Retirement System ($37 Million) and health insurance ($27 million), as well as less aid from Virginia ($21 Million).
Superintendent Karen Garza has proposed adding one student to classes; eliminating teacher assistants for kindergarten, instructional assistant for elementary schools and “Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools”; reducing assistant principals and counselors; and shortening faculty contracts one day and furloughing faculty one day.
“I understand that these discussions might cause some alarm among our employees and families, but at this point, we are only exploring ideas. But we have to begin the discussion somewhere as we face a crisis that is not going to be easily solved. Final decisions will be made in May when we complete the budget process.” Garza said in ‘The Bottom Line’, a FCPS budget publication, “This is the most serious fiscal challenge that FCPS has ever faced. We will need the best thinking of our employees, families, and community members to help us find solutions. Unfortunately, at this point, we will need to explore all options for reducing our expenditures.”
FCPS is unable to accrue debt and must address the shortfall. The federal government can accrue debt, and some assume that FCPS can overspend and pay interest. However, FCPS cannot overspend and have debt. FCPS has a system like a debit card instead of a credit card, where only money the cardholder has can be spent. For a debit card, when the card is swiped the existing money is taken out of the account immediately. When there is no more money a purchase cannot be made.
Even if FCPS was able to accrue debt, it would be unwise to irresponsibly leave the shortfall to become debt and be compounded by future shortfalls. This would cripple future FCPS students and cause much more severe, comprehensive, and debilitating cuts. many programs would have to be eliminated. Interest would have to be paid on the future debt and that would consume money that would be better spent on schools.
It is advantageous for FCPS to address this lack of money now, and enable FCPS to operate as an efficient school system. Then money can be spent to benefit and improve schools, raise teacher salaries and buy new equipment, instead of buy more time on a debt bomb.
The federal government just underwent a bitterly divided battle over their budget bomb. Nothing was decided and the government shutdown.
The shortfall of $140 million, out of a $2.5 billion operating budget, for fiscal year 2015 would cause FCPS to run out of money 3 weeks before the end of the next school year and FCPS shut down. It would be like the government shutdown but at FCPS. Teachers could not be paid. There would be no electricity for air conditioning or lights. There would be no food in the cafeteria or gas for the buses.
The cuts may hurt now, but benefits will be reaped in the future as money is allocated to improvement and operation and FCPS is not crippled by interest, debt and future cuts.
The difference of $140 million must be made up. The question is instead, what do we cut and how can we increase revenue.
“Any reduction we make this next year will be painful,” Superintendent Garza said in an email to FCPS staff, “I am very mindful that these budget discussions create concern and anxiety for our employees and our overall community. I am confident that we will find solutions to these challenges by working together and by seeking the support of county leadership and the support of our community.”