The Budget and Boundaries are the main news right now from the School Board.
FY2012 Budget: The School Board on Thursday, Feb. 3, approved a $2.2 billion Advertised Budget for FY2012 that
- Has no increase in class size
- Gives teachers and other employees raises for the first time in three years
- Paves the way for eliminating AP/IB test fees imposed this year
- Continues the Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) program
- Continues the rollout of Full Day Kindergarten
- Requests a $48.8 million increased transfer from the Board of Supervisors, from which FCPS gets most of its funding.
- Is not a done deal yet by any means-that happens in May
The Advertised Budget now goes to the Board of Supervisors, which will hold public hearings March 29-31, before deciding at the end of April how much they will give the school system. The School Board will then hold more public hearings and pass a final budget in May.
AP/IB Test Fees: I've been opposed to these $75-per-test fees because of concerns that they are a serious barrier for some of our students to take our most challenging high school courses (Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate). Particularly at our IB schools, where parents wrote to me about receiving bills for $450 for IB test fees in December, on top of new sports fees that can total $300 per year per student.
The Virginia Attorney General recently issued an opinion saying that the testing fees are illegal. I was pleased when Superintendent Dale told the Board that, rather than try to find a way around the opinion, he would recommend eliminating these testing fees and refunding those that have been collected so far this year.
As a result, I withdrew budget amendments I had submitted to limit the fees and instead offered an amendment directing the Superintendent to bring us his plan for dealing with the fees for our March 14 work session. My amendment passed unanimously. Any plan would still need to be approved by the School Board.
Budget Priorities and Amendments: The Board has set teacher pay raises as a top priority this year, and I am committed to keeping our promise on this.
A full-day kindergarten (FDK) amendment approved on Thursday asks the Superintendent to come up with a plan to put FDK in the remaining 37 schools that don't have it over the next three years. While all of Mason District schools already have FDK, I supported this amendment as a matter of fairness for those schools that "waited" while schools with greater needs went first. Our new school at the old Lacey Center site will need to have FDK, as well.
We received scads of emails about keeping FLES, and we voted unanimously not to cut it from this Advertised Budget. Among schools attended by Mason District students, we have FLES in Sleepy Hollow Elementary School (Arabic), Beech Tree Elementary (Arabic) and Mantua Elementary (Italian).
Unfortunately, other worthy amendments didn't pass. One (offered by At-Large School Board member Tina Hone) would have reinstated summer school for our neediest students. At the Board table, we fashioned a revised amendment that would have simply called for a plan for more early intervention for at-risk kids at the elementary level, but that failed 7 to 5.
Another (also by Ms. Hone) would have provided more support and supervision for students while they are suspended from school. Right now these students all too often are on their own in unsupervised situations while they wait to return to school. This isn't good for the students or the community. But that amendment failed also. I do plan to continue to pursue this issue.
Overall, while this isn't perfect and we still have difficult decisions to make, I feel this is a reasonable budget, one that takes care of our school system's priorities. While we are asking for an increase from the Board of Supervisors, we also are dealing with a significant increase in students, including a higher percentage with special needs. The school system has an obligation to request what we believe we need to serve our students, and that's what this does.
I urge you to support our request for funding when it comes before the Board of Supervisors. To sign up to speak:
For more on the budget, go to www.fcps.edu and click on the "Details" link in the FY2012 Budget section. There's a wealth of information there, including some interesting budget questions and answers, if you really want to burrow in.
A public Budget Forum will be held from 9 am to noon Saturday, Feb. 26 at Falls Church High School. The forum will include information about the budget, with opportunities for the public to ask questions and raise issues. I urge you to attend.
Annandale Regional Study--Critical Decisions Coming Soon: The School Board will be making critical decisions this spring and summer about how to deal with overcrowding at Annandale High School (AHS) and Poe Middle School. Whatever we do will affect many students and their families, both at these schools and potentially at several surrounding and feeder schools. One of my top priorities this spring is to make sure that potentially affected families are aware of what is being considered, so that they can express their views and be part of fashioning the solution.
The Ad Hoc Study Group on these issues gave its report on Jan. 10, with many creative options, including some that would not require a boundary change. The Board will hear what staff thinks of these nonboundary ideas at our March 14 Work Session.
Boundaries: The options presented by the study group for possible boundary changes to relieve AHS could impact 1) all students coming from the Bren Mar Park ES area 2) students from the Parklawn ES area who now attend Holmes/AHS 3) AHS students from the North Springfield ES area who live outside the Beltway, 4) some students from Wakefield Chapel. The options offered to relieve Poe included changing some students from the Annandale Terrace ES area to Jackson MS and some from the Belvedere ES area to Glasgow MS.
AHS/Poe Survey: After you've had a chance to read the report, please give your opinion in a survey, especially if you could be affected by the options.
The AHS PTSA has created a new blog to provide the latest information on these efforts. You can sign up for email alerts, keep up to date on the issues, and join the discussion. Sign up by going to www.annandalehsptsa.org -you'll find the blog by clicking on the "Overcrowding Options" tab on the right side of the home page.
Annandale Community Meeting Rescheduled: A community meeting to discuss the high school/middle school study has been scheduled for 7 pm, Thursday, Feb. 17 at Poe Middle School. I urge you to attend to get more information and raise any issues or concerns.
"Lacey" Boundaries: A new elementary school will open at the site of the old Lacey Center in Fall 2012, and the School Board must establish new boundaries for that school this summer. The Ad Hoc Study Group that studied boundary options for the new school presented its report to the Board on Jan. 10. It offered five boundary scenarios. All of the scenarios affected some families who are now within the boundaries of Annandale Terrace ES, Beech Tree ES and Woodburn ES. Four of the five would affect areas now assigned to Belvedere ES. One (Scenario B) would affect an area now assigned to Columbia ES. One (Scenario A1) would affect areas now assigned to Sleepy Hollow ES, Westlawn ES and Pine Spring ES.
The committee did an excellent job of considering different options and offering those that seemed the most viable. At the same time, these can still be changed or combined to create the best plan possible. Once parents, teachers and other community members have weighed in, the Board will receive staff recommendations and start making decisions.
Please take a few minutes to read the report and weigh in with your opinion. A new survey on the options is available at the FCPS web site.
"Lacey"/Annandale Time Line: The Board will have work sessions on the "Lacey" (in quotes because we don't yet know what the actual name will be) boundaries and the AHS/Poe overcrowding issues on March 14, April 4 and July 18. The scope of boundary studies will be approved by the Board at its regular meeting on April 28. Recommended solutions will be posted on June 23, public hearings held on July 11 and 12, and final action scheduled for July 28 at the Board's regular meeting that night.
It's important to me to hear from families that might be affected by the decisions being made. Please express your views through the survey, at community meetings and hearings and in emails directly to me.