The Fairfax County School Board approved a 1 percent pay raise for employees and county-wide full-day kindergarten with a unanimous passage of a $2.2 billion fiscal year 2012 budget late Thursday night.
A handful of parents supporting full-day kindergarten, all dressed in white shirts as a show of solidarity for their cause, cheered when the budget finally passed. They hoisted placards thanking school officials for implementing “full-day K” after the vote was final.
“It is unfair to deny students the same educational opportunity as their peers just because of the neighborhood in which their parents live,” said board member Elizabeth Bradsher (Springfield). “We’re correcting that tonight.”
The vote will put full-day kindergarten in place at by the start of the next school year. The school board did not address how the system would hire, or make space for additional classrooms.
Board member Jane Strauss (Dranesville) said she is “delighted” that all schools will receive full-day kindergarten next year.
“We are at that point where the curriculum has changed for our newest and youngest students when they come to us at five,” she said. “Our curriculum in kindergarten is premised on a full-day program, and we can’t deliver it to those children in half the time.”
Board member Tina Hone (at-large) agreed that part-time kindergartners had been deprived of educational opportunities, but rejected the notion that parents pushing for full-day kindergartner “were the most effective advocates we’d ever seen.”
“The majority of us wanted to do full-day K, so you were not – they were not swimming against the tide,” Hone said. “And I think it’s crucial that the generosity that we showed as a board to the full-day K is a generosity we extend to all of our parents who are advocating for things, even if they are for things we as a board do not necessarily support.”
The approved 1 percent pay hike fell short of the 2 percent raise included in Superintendent Jack Dale’s initial budget proposal. Still, several school board members called it a step in the right direction.
“My sincere apologies to all our staff that it doesn’t go far enough,” school board vice-chair Brad Center said. “I just, frankly, couldn’t find another way to increase where we are in the way of compensation. It’s a down payment that needs to be addressed as the years continue.”
The Fairfax Education Association, a union that represents county teachers, had said at past work sessions they hoped a lower-than-expected raise would be complemented with a review of teacher workload. The issue was not mentioned by board members Thursday nightt.
Board members in a budget amendment . A second amendment to increase student parking fees from $200 to $225, made by board member Jim Raney (at-large), failed following a lengthy discussion.
The board voted to make up for the revenue it will lose in capping the athletic fee by reducing the $10,000 given to each of the county's 26 high schools for processing payments to $4,400.
Before casting their final budget votes, each of the dozen school board members spoke at length, sharing their thoughts about the budget process and other topics. For several board members not running for re-election, it was their last chance to make such a post-budget speech.
Board member Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill) said he found this year’s budget process – his 16th and last as a school board member – to be “bittersweet.” He reminded attendees that Fairfax County has no control over how much money comes into the system through taxes or legislative allocation.
“There is something inherently wrong about a system that elects school board members, and then tasks them with the impossible task of educating nearly 180,000 students to very high standards without giving them the resources to do it,” he said. “I would encourage people as we move forward to plan next year’s budget that we ask the tough questions: How are we going to address the long-term funding needs of our schools and our children?”
Strauss said while it’s fine to take a moment to celebrate funding certain programs like full day kindergarten, she urged everyone to remember that the school system is still in a position of having to make continued cuts.
“World class schools are what this community wants,” she said. “In spite of tight budgets, we have to find a way to provide that.”