Parents and teachers talk budget plan

Parents and teachers talk budget plan

Supervisors John Cook and Penny Gross speak with parents about the expected budget plans for the 2010-2011 year.

County Supervisors John Cook and Penny Gross attended and spoke at a Parent Teacher Student Association meeting at AHS on March 17, focusing on the budget crisis confronting Fairfax County and its schools for the 2010-2011 school year. The news they brought was surprising to both Fairfax County school faculty and students, most of whom have become accustomed to hearing unfortunate predictions regarding budget cuts and their effect on the upcoming school year.

The Fairfax County School Board voted to approve the suggested 2011 budget of $2.3 billion, despite prior indications to the contrary.

The move will save administrative positions, keep class sizes from increasing and preserve programs such as indoor track and freshman sports.

Some of the county’s cost-reduction plans, however, have gone through. Students will now have to pay $100 for every Virginia High School League sport they participate in.

Those involved in the International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement programs now face a fee of $75 for each of their exams.

For the second year in a row, the salaries of all Fairfax County employees have been frozen. There is still a serious chance that some programs, such as all-day kindergarten, elementary strings and band and foreign language immersion will be eliminated from the budget.

Despite the seriousness of some budget changes and reductions, it is still remarkable that the county emerged with such weighty capital.

According to Cook and Gross, Fairfax County public schools received an extra $109 million because of a legislative decision to decrease funds put into the Virginia Retirement System this fiscal year.

The VRS is the main pension fund for FCPS employees, and contributions made into it by individual counties are mandated by the state.

Thus, by choosing to decrease its contribution to the program this year, Fairfax County digs itself into a deeper hole.

Since rate reductions must be made up for in the future, a decrease in funds paid this year must be compensated for in years to follow.

This short-term fix will only further aggravate the already-strained county budget, leading to greater restraints on future expenditures.

Some AHS students appreciate the county’s effort to preserve important school programs.

“I agree that they shouldn’t do budget cuts,” said freshman Mirian Romerro. “If they took away freshman sports, it would be like pushing the freshmen away. All the programs give advantages to the students and keep them involved, so they don’t go out and do bad things.”

Senior Laura Truong was able to see the negative side of the board’s decision, but was ultimately glad that many major programs faced minimal change.

“Either way it would be a bad thing. Taking away pensions and freezing pay is bad, because the staff will have low pay, but if they didn’t do it we wouldn’t have the normal activities we usually do.”

An overwhelming majority, however, feel that the decision is ultimately detrimental to county schools and infringes on the rights of some of their hardest working employees.

Through their statements, students demonstrated their appreciation for FCPS staff, most notably teachers.

“The teachers use almost all of their money for stuff for the students, so the county’s decision just means less money for them,” said freshman Mairead Kennedy.

Minh Hoang, an AHS senior, also disagreed with the decision.

“I don’t think it’s fair because the teachers work hard, and then they’re not getting paid for what they’re doing,” she said.

Student opinions were also affected by the danger of further budget issues down the road. Most seemed willing to sacrifice some of their student benefits in order to avoid even bigger budget deficits in the future.

“Personally, I don’t like taking away money from the employee pension fund, because they deserve the benefits,” said sophomore Elizabeth Wilson. “Additionally, we’re only furthering our debt, so this is just going to increase our problems in the future. Eventually programs are going to have to be cut. We should just do the cuts sooner rather than later and not take money away from our teachers.”

Students like junior Anna Smith even had suggestions on money-saving methods for the school.

“We should make it so that people have to get themselves to sports games, because then we wouldn’t have to pay for bus services,” she said. “It would be better to make a few minor cuts that decrease the amount of money we’re spending than to just take away all this money from teachers to fund our programs.”

The decision to offset budget cuts by decreasing pension funds represents a considerable effort by county and state legislators to preserve the programs and benefits that FCPS students expect and enjoy.

What remains to be seen, however, is the future effect it will have on the county’s budget, staff, and ever-increasing number of public school attendees.