The School Bell

County Transfers More than $2.5 Billion to the County Schools for FY 2016

Typical two room rural school house still in popular use through the first 40 years of the 20th Century.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted the FY 2016 budget, which begins on July 1, 2015. The Board approved the transfer increase of $56.65 million to the schools, a 3.2 percent increase over FY 2015.  The total transfer is well in excess of $2.5 billion.  Subsequent to advertising these budgets, the Virginia General Assembly approved budget amendments that resulted in a net increase to Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) of $9.9 million. 

However, it is important to remember that last year, the school system realized $38 million in leftover funds, and $55 million the preceding year, some of which was spent on synthetic athletic fields & full day Mondays for elementary schools, while some went into a slush fund.  The FCPS Board has been criticized in the past for politicking. More money than needed is requested each year from the Board of Supervisors, who are struggling to balance the county budget, while keeping so many essential programs alive, in addition to the school system. 

Too often, when the subject of school funding is raised, it becomes THE only subject.  Many are quick to ignore that funding the Fairfax County Fire Department, the Police Department, Sewer Operations, Refuse Collection the 9-11 System, Stormwater Service, the Health Dept. and the Court System are also essential county obligations.  We haven’t even touched on the Library System, the Fairfax County Park Authority, servicing county vehicles, providing snow removal, and the county’s contribution to the Transit System.

Being a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is not for the faint of heart, nor for those who do not comprehend the fine intricacies of a forty-eight page budget.  Supervisors must be thoroughly knowledgeable about each and every county department and county service; versed in county, state & federal funding & how they interplay; every need in their district; and, they must care as much about preserving human life as the school system. Skin as tough as a rhinoceros is also helpful.  Popular sport, including here in Annandale, is to take pot shots at the district Supervisor, most often by those who simply enjoy launching sassy uninformed accusations.  This is not productive.

The schools are, and always will be vital to the county, BUT, they are not the only crucial expenditure. More than 52% of the entire county budget is transferred to the schools each and every year. That is no chump change out of the taxpayers pocket. 

Just last year, lower than anticipated costs had left unspent funds. The school system was permitted to keep the many millions along with those accumulated over the previous years, establishing a pattern of fiscal over-grabbing from the county budget.  Fairfax County transfers the largest percentage of their annual revenue, bar none, to the schools, exceeding $2.5 billion, a significant investment by any standard.  Just think about that for a moment, Two Point Five BILLION Dollars.  How many companies do you know with revenue of $2.5 billion?  (Believe it or not, only a small fraction of US businesses earn that amount.) This constitutes a LARGE business in the for-profit world with annual demands to restructure and streamline.  Input is sought from every level of management, and blind employee questionnaires are eagerly read.  Successful companies are always looking to build the next best mousetrap, to run their company even more efficiently, and to provide the best work experience possible for everyone on their payroll.  Not certain where those ideas will originate, good businesses are as open to suggestions from the maintenance staff as the executive staff.  And that executive staff is fully aware that their job is just as likely to be culled as those of the maintenance staff...they take nothing for granted.

One last question to ponder, “When an organization does not EARN revenue, but is given it, does revenue just become a jumble of numbers rather than a representation of countless nights of toil?”

Last year, Virginia also received $360K from the US Department of Education to defray cost of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams.   This grant reduced the cost of exams to the Fairfax County School System, who has previously picked up the $18 fee incurred by low-income students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals.  Other funding came in the form of a $760,000 Grant from DoDEA Educational Partnership: FCPS was eligible for this grant because the district serves military-connected students from the Fort Belvoir Military installation.    It is not unusual for the school system to benefit from grants, most often from the Federal Government.

Over the past five years, the Board of Supervisors has consistently increased funding to the schools. However, in the coming years stringent financial challenges will be faced by both Fairfax County and the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS).   For Fiscal Year 2017 everyone acknowledges that there will be a financial strain on the schools with enrollment growth, required increases to the state retirement system, and inequitable state funding formulas for education, according to both Chairman Bulova and Superintendent Karen Garza.

“We recognize that it is critical for FCPS and the County Board of Supervisors to continue to work together to find viable financial solutions that are in the best interest of our children and the community as a whole.  We have agreed that we need to move forward as a team to find solutions to these funding challenges. We welcome the opportunity to work together to protect Fairfax County's quality of life and enable Fairfax County Public Schools to maintain the high quality educational programs that educate and nurture future Fairfax County citizens and employees.”     Chairman Sharon Bulova

Close to home, Mason District has seen three new schools built, and major renovations at 14 others, plus full-day Mondays added for elementary school children.

 

Approved and Transferred:  Fairfax County Public Schools Operating Expenditures for FY 2016

Operating Expenditures:                               $2,514,783,412.00 

  • Capital Projects $163,052,786
    • Food and Nutrition Services $88,437,427
    • Adult & Community Education $9,638,432
    • Grants & Self-Supporting Programs $71,913,207
    • School Insurance $22,528,271
    • Health & Flexible Benefits $391,304,102
    • Educational Employees’ Retirement $207,876,796
    • Public School OPEB Trust $16,759,500

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