County’s thin wallet invokes cut proposals for AHS

In the AHS library on Wednesday, Oct. 21, three Fairfax County representatives sat before a morose crowd of concerned parents, alumni and administrators attempting to sell the latest School Board proposed budget cuts that will directly affect AHS. Fairfax County revenue is down eight percent for fiscal year 2010 and the projected 2011 deficit is set at $315.6 million. “There’s not enough money to go around, and people are going to get passionate; it’s their kids here,” said Braddock District Vice Chairman Tessie Wilson. “It doesn’t get any uglier than this,” she said to a small sea of nodding heads and frowns.

The economy has dramatically afflicted schools, and funding on all levels is scarce. “We can’t count on the state [funding] and we all know the [federal] stimulus money may run out,” said Mason District Representative Kaye Kory.

AHS students will feel the county’s thin wallet pervasively around the school. IB test fees may no longer be covered for students by the county. The school year may be reduced to 180 days. Fine arts programs could be removed. Class sizes may increase to eliminate teachers and their attached salaries, and additional faculty including coaches, career center specialists, custodians and IB coordinators would potentially be removed. These cuts and others would make up for the current deficit inflicted by the ailing economy.

Yet these proposals are highly tentative. Extensive budget development will continue until immediately before the 2011 school year. “Things in here can disappear, and things can be added,” said Martina Hone, a Board Service Member at Large. The “planning document” containing said projections will be heavily reformed before implementation, but even in its initial layout, the proposals appear stark.

“There is not a pretty number on these sheets,” said Wilson in response to a heightened degree of antagonism in the audience upon discussing the proposals. It was noted that with a requisite of cuts it is near impossible to please everyone, and alleviating the problem with heightened taxes was quickly deemed politically impossible.

Adding to the difficulty of sustaining a quality education system in a period of economic decline is the statistical minority position of parents and students in Fairfax County. “75 percent of the people in Fairfax County don’t have kids in schools,” said Wilson.

Thus, she urged parents to raise their voices against the proposed cuts. “You guys need to yell louder than the other 75 percent,” she said. Parents were urged to not only protest the cuts, but also identify which educational aspects they would be least content to lose. “Please tell us what you care about,” said Hone, hoping to definitively identify which programs will be kept, and which will be removed.

The meeting concluded on an equally somber note as it began, with a call for “squeaky wheels” of parental opposition to give the School Board direction through its impending inflictions in an attempt to alleviate the inevitable pain of budget cuts.