Last Monday the Fairfax delegation to the Assembly met with the County School Board and leadership of the Fairfax County Public Schools. The news is not good.
The FCPS system is facing increased enrollment and pension costs for 2010 while revenues decline. Even including $50 million in Federal stimulus, it will still be $162M below its 2009 baseline budget (not counting the inevitable cuts from Richmond). When all the economic factors are added in, FCPS could face a 10% shortfall from its current $2.2 billion annual budget.
Here are some of the cost-cutting options laid out by FCPS staff last week:
1. Increase class size by one student (save $19M)
2. Eliminate elementary school band and orchestra (save $7M)
3. Eliminate “all-day” kindergarten in most schools (save $13M)
4. Eliminate general education summer school (save $8M)
5. Eliminate foreign language immersion in Elementary (save $2M)
6. Eliminate forty assistant principals (save $3.5M)
These cost savings are marginal in impact, although high in symbolic value. The primary driver of cost continues to be personnel and facilities, which are the core of the FCPS mission. There can be no balancing of the budget without addressing that reality.
Every business is facing this same dilemma — cut salaries or lay off workers? freeze construction or issue more debt? The bottom line is the educational program must fit the available funds. No program and no building is “priceless.” Nor do all activities have to be free if parents can afford to pay a fee. This sounds brutal but it’s the truth.
FCPS is a great school system. Maybe the best in the U.S. for a large county. But every school system in the U.S. has to reinvent itself for the next few years. We may be facing a reinvention in Fairfax in the next few months.