The Problems with Garza’s proposed budget cuts

Superintendent Garza

Superintendent Garza

New Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Superintendent Karen Garza is set to introduce a $150 million budget cut to the school system, offering over 20 different options for elimination. Among her plans for elimination are increasing class size, eliminating foreign language programs in elementary schools and eliminating over 1,000 staff positions throughout the county.

All of which are a big mistake.

To give the situation some context, let’s look at the state of the FCPS system right now. According to the official website, our current budget is $2.5 billion, and the funds are spread among 180,000 students, close to 24,000 staff members, 1,500 buses operating each day and a multitude of programs (such as free/reduced lunch, driver education, foreign language immersion and fine arts).

According to a recent article on The Washington Post, between 80 and 85 percent of the budget goes towards teacher salaries, and the rest goes towards the various high-quality programs that make FCPS stand out.

FCPS reports spending $13,472 per student, a number that is reflected by the high quality of our education system and student programs.

Garza’s proposed cuts go before the Board of Supervisors in January, and they have until spring to approve them or make modifications.

Increasing class size

FCPS is the eleventh largest school district in the nation, and the largest in Virginia. In the 2012-2013 school year, the average class size in high schools was 29.5 students.

Garza’s cuts mean that class sizes would increase by one student, but in already-full classrooms, that number would be strongly felt.

First of all, implementation of the increased class sizes would be difficult, especially at an over-capacity high school such as AHS. Some AHS classrooms can’t comfortably hold 28 students, let alone the 32 that would be in classes.

In addition to the impracticality with respect to classroom structures, students would not be able to engage in as much dialogue with their teachers about essays, major projects or IB tests.

That would lead to teachers having to stay after school for longer periods of time in order to give their students the amount of attention that they need to succeed in class.

However, according to The Washington Post, Garza sees an expected $25 million in savings, as the slight increase in class sizes will lead to the county laying off 400 staff positions, further spurring teachers to leave the FCPS system and seek employment in neighboring counties.

Cutting staff positions

One of Garza’s proposed cuts entails the elimination of over 1,000 staff positions. She plans to remedy this by increasing class sizes.

School board members have voiced concern in this matter, but Garza offers other solutions, including eliminating the positions of school psychologists, librarians, social workers, custodians and secretaries.

All of the aforementioned positions are necessary for FCPS schools to function. By eliminating those positions, those in existing positions will have to take on additional  responsibilities.

When the FCPS system brought up a new plan for the school library system (which would eliminate the need for full-time librarians), citizens strongly opposed it and the idea was scrapped.  The idea has already been proven extremely unpopular – there is no reason it should be brought up again.

Eliminating foreign language instruction in elementary schools

While AHS is known for its diversity, FCPS is also a considerably diverse county. Due to its diversity, several different languages are spoken, and the number of English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students increases each year.

That further increases the need for foreign language instruction in elementary schools. It would promote a dialogue between students who speak different languages, thusly encouraging the interaction of cultures.

Besides, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages ACTFL), students that learn more than one language as a child proves better in the long run – they tend to outperform monolingual students on math tests and most standardized tests.

It would be in FCPS’ best interests to keep the foreign language programs in elementary schools – the return on the investment of funds in this program would yield better SOL scores, grades and other test results (such as the SAT, ACT and IB tests).

In The Washington Post article, Garza herself says that the the proposed cuts “will affect just the operation of our system as a whole. So it’s to the bone, I would say.”

The budget cuts force FCPS to be a less competitive county – if we expect to retain our reputation as one of the best counties in the nation, we must continue to invest as we did before in education.

The cuts threaten the integrity of the FCPS system – which is one of the best in the state, if not the nation. Not only will we see a quality decrease if her budget proposal gets approved by the Board of Supervisors, but, as School Board Chairman Ilryong Moon said, “we won’t be Fairfax anymore.”