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1999 Winter Bulletin


Fairfax County Public Schools "Community Accountability Report"- What's Missing?


Since 1996, the Fairfax County Public Schools system has published an annual "Community Accountability Report" entitled Good Schools . . .Good for Everyone. Former school superintendent, Dr. Robert R. Spillane, and then school board chairman, Kristen J. Amundson, stated in the 1996 report that its purpose was to show that, "Our students achieve at very high levels, and the school system operates at a very low cost compared to other school systems in the region."

However, the three reports published since 1996 show neither trends in per-student spending nor average Fairfax County Public Schools SAT percentiles.

While Fairfax County Public Schools do cost less per student than neighboring school systems, Fairfax per-student costs, adjusted for inflation, increased 86% since 1975. The increase, including inflation is 490%. Costs include both operating budget and school debt service.

  • What quality education has this increase provided?

The school system annually reports its average SAT scores, which are about 80 points above the national average. However, the school system never reports its average SAT percentile. As the accompanying SAT graph shows, the average Fairfax County Public Schools senior scores at the 64th percentile.

Another statistic missing from the "Community Accountability Report" is the percentage of Fairfax County seniors who attend four-year colleges but fail to graduate. Nationally, about 50% of high school seniors who attend four-year colleges never graduate from college. It appears that this is also true for Fairfax County students.

A December 1994, Fairfax County Public Schools report entitled "Securing Our Students' Future in a High-Tech Global Economy" inaugurated the Professional/Technical Studies program to "dramatically redesign" the curriculum by merging vocational and academic tracks. Page 1 of this report states, "Only 55 percent of those Virginia students who attend a four-year college actually graduate." That this statistic was used to justify a major curriculum change in Fairfax County suggests that the statistic applies to Fairfax County.

Opponents of tax credits for private school tuition and contributions claim that diverting money from public schools jeopardizes the education of minorities. Do these critics believe that minorities are getting a quality education in public schools? The accompanying graph shows that the average SAT percentile for Hispanic seniors is below the 50th percentile and is below the 40th percentile for African Americans. In the 1997 report, Dr. Spillane specifically stated, "Achievement is high for students of all ethnic groups, . . . "

The new superintendent, Dr. Daniel A. Domenech, himself an Hispanic, makes no such claim in his 1998-99 report. On the contrary, believes that he must increase SAT scores. According to a September 16, 1998, Washington Post article ("Schools Strive to Raise Test Scores of Minorities") "Dr. Domenech says his goal is to eliminate the racial gap in SAT scores within five years."

However, the school board has not adopted Dr. Domenech's five-year goal. The official school board goal is that "the gap between minority and majority students' [SAT] scores will narrow by 10 percent" and "the percentage of students scoring above the national average on both the verbal and mathematic SAT will exceed the previous year's percentage."

These are weak goals. There's no commitment to close the minority achievement gap, and if the percent of students scoring above average increases but by a negligible amount, the school board can still claim success on the second goal. Furthermore the school administration has provided no historical data on the percent of students scoring above average, so there is nothing with which to compare future results.

The "Community Accountability Report" notwithstanding, the school board is still avoiding accountability by withholding important statistics and setting timid goals. As the accompanying graphs show, the school system has increased spending, not achievement.



School Bureaucracy to Grow

In February 1997, the school board approved a $9 million computerized student information system. One would hope that computerization would lead to a smaller administrative staff. Not so.

On November 20, 1998, the school board received a Phase I report, "Workload and Classification Study of Office-Based Positions," by MGT of America. This is the company that in 1997 performed a $500,000 management analysis of the school system and concluded that Fairfax County had one of the best managed school systems in the country.

MGT's report recommends an increase of about 300 new office positions at a cost of about $8 million.

By Arthur Purves

PTA: Supervisors To Raise Taxes in Year 2000

During election campaigns, the Fairfax County supervisors try to divert attention from taxes. Then as soon as they are elected the supervisors raise taxes and hope that the electorate will forget the tax increase before the next election. This happened in the last supervisors' election in November 1995, when the leading election issue was evolution, not taxes. Then in January 1996, the school superintendent asked for a $100 million increase in the school budget, compared to the $30 million that could have been granted without a tax increase. In April 1996, the supervisors then raised taxes by $50 million.

"But the leadership of the Board
of Supervisors has promised
no tax increases until 2000.."
- Fairfax County Council of
PTA's opinion column in the
November 5, 1998, Fairfax

The pattern is beginning to repeat itself for the supervisors' election in 1999.

In a November 5, 1998, Fairfax Journal opinion column, Rosemary Lynch and Robert Whiteman, president and first vice president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs, argue for higher taxes for schools. Specifically, the PTA wants higher taxes so the county can spend more money on debt service for school bonds.

The PTA states that there is a "$500 million deficit in unfunded, delayed, and unbuilt projects."

This year, the county will spend $168 million, or 9% of its budget, on principal and interest payments (i.e., debt service) for school and county bonds. The PTA would like to increase the debt service from 9% to 12% or even 15%. An increase from 9% to 15% would require a tax increase of about $110 million, more than twice as large as the supervisors' 1996 tax hike.

The PTA article claims that such an increase would cost the average household only about $65 more per year in taxes.

In fact the cost would not be $65 per year but $200 per year. Raising an extra $110 million from real estate taxes would require a 13 cent increase in the real estate tax rate. (In 1996 the supervisors increased the real estate tax rate by seven cents.) This would be a 10% increase in the real estate tax rate, from $1.23 to $1.39. The average homeowner pays $2100 in real estate taxes, so a 10% increase would cost an extra $210 per year.

The PTA should explain why there is a $500 million deficit in school capital projects but does not. For example the claim has been made that five high schools - Annandale, McLean, Madison, Stuart, and Lee - have not had comprehensive renovations since their construction in the 50s. However, school records show that these schools were funded for renovations in 1977 and 1986 bonds. Why were these renovations inadequate?

Is the PTA aware that during the 80s the schools almost doubled per-student spending (up 86%)? The annual cost to the taxpayers for this 86% increase is about $600 million.

Is the PTA aware that the result of higher taxes has been low student achievement? For example, the county's average SAT score is at the 64th percentile.

Nevertheless, a tax increase is likely. According to the article, ". . . the leadership of the Board of Supervisors has promised no tax increases until 2000 . . . " It appears then that the PTA will get a tax increase, right after the November 1999, supervisors election.


By Arthur Purves

Results of FCTA Annual Meeting

At the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance annual meeting, held Oct. 6, 1998, Arthur Purves, Tom Pfister, and Mark Collins were re-elected to two-year terms as president, first vice president, and second vice president. Tom Beck, Robert Beck, Doug Barylski, Ludwig Benner, and Jim Purvis were elected to two-year terms as at-large directors. All are former board members except for Jim Purvis, whom we welcome to the board. In addition, elected as district directors were Ray Coggin (Hunter Mill District) Lou DiLeonardo (Braddock District), and Jack Fetner (Providence District). All three are serving their first term, which will expire in October 1999. Ray Coggin and Lou DiLeonardo have been serving diligently for several months. We welcome Jack Fetner, who is new to the board.

Tom Beck and Perry Young agreed to continue serving as treasurer and secretary, which are appointed positions with two-year terms.

FCTA 1998-99 Officers

Arthur Purves President
Tom Pfister First VP
Mark Collins Second VP
Tom Beck Treasurer
Perry Young Secretary
Tom Beck At-Large Director
Robert Beck At-Large Director
Ludwig Benner At-Large Director
Jim Purvis At-Large Director

District Directors

Dick Epperson Mt. Vernon
Warren Hill Mason
Al Marcy Sully
Elizabeth Smith Dranesville
Ray Coggin Hunter Mill
Lou DiLeonardo Braddock
Jack Fetner Providence

At the December 1 board meeting Doug Barylski, who spearheaded the Alliance's sign campaign against the recent bond referenda, resigned to run for school board from Mason District. We wish Doug success in his school board race. We thank all board members for their service. Community involvement requires a sacrifice of family time. We thank the spouses and children of board members for their support.

The Alliance currently has two vacancies for district directors (Lee and Springfield districts) and five vacancies for at-large directors. We invite citizens who want to rein in government spending to join our board.

For the annual meeting, the Alliance invited the county government to send representatives to answer questions about the November 1998, bond referenda for parks and public safety. Eighteen county representatives attended:

  • John Shivik, John Pratt, Sandra Duckworth, and Frank Vajda - Citizens Committee for the Bond Referendum
  • Judge F. Bruce Bach - Chief Judge of the Circuit Court
  • Judge Kathleen H. MacKay - Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court
  • Ed Long - Director of the Department of Management and Budget
  • Frank de la Fe - Chairman, Fairfax County Park Authority Board
  • Todd H. Hafner - Director Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority
  • Captain Charron - West Springfield Police Station
  • Assistant Chief Mark Wheatley - Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department
  • Ron Kirkpatrick - Office of Capital Facilities, Project Management
  • Kathy Simmons - Office of Public Affairs
  • Carol Ann Cohen - Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority
  • Leslie Nickels - Circuit Court
  • Martha Newcomb - Department of Management and Budget
  • Merni Fitzgerald and Jay Jorgensen - Fairfax County Park Authority

These individuals provided Alliance members an exceptional opportunity to ask questions about government policies and spending. Attendance was light, but the discussion was lively. The Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance sincerely thanks the county representatives listed above for attending our annual meeting.

By Arthur Purves



As discussed in Arthur Purves' article entitled "PTA: Supervisors To Raise Taxes In Year 2000," the FCTA recently challenged factual assertions made by the County Council of PTAs (the "PTA") in calling for a new local income tax and increased borrowing by Fairfax County. The PTA's hostile response to this criticism provides a telling glimpse of the attitude of some who relentlessly advocate increased government spending and taxes in Fairfax County.

The PTA supports increasing the percentage of the operating budget that Fairfax County can spend on principal and interest payments ("debt service") to bond holders from 9% to 15%. As an alternative means to fund increased spending, the PTA has also proposed a new local income tax on county residents. This proposal reflects the PTA's frustration in having their spending goals thwarted by smaller-than-expected increases in property tax revenue, due to stagnant real estate values.

The FCTA challenged the PTA's estimates of the increased tax burden that the average homeowner would bear if the county increased its debt service to 15% of the operating budget. The PTA claims that its proposal would cost the average homeowner an additional $65 per year in property taxes. The fact is that spending an additional $110 million per year in debt service would require a 10% increase in the average homeowner's property tax bill - an extra $210 per year (based upon the average annual property tax bill of $2100).

When presented with these facts, the PTA resorted to insults and diatribe. Robert Whiteman, first vice-president of the PTA, responded in a December 8, 1998 e-mail that even if the increased burden on the average homeowner were $400 per year, "no one in Fairfax County who qualifies for a mortgage should be angry to pay it. They should be ashamed of themselves for wanting to spend money on vacations and not on making sure children are well educated. Associations such as yours [FCTA] make me ill with the arrogant and selfish attitudes of the primarily upper class white male attitude."

Apparently, Mr. Whiteman and the PTA believe that overtaxed Fairfax County homeowners have nothing better to spend their hard-earned dollars on than vacations, and the desire to retain those dollars through restrained government spending and taxation is "arrogant and selfish." It is no small irony that Mr. Whiteman, who purports to know best how to spend an ever-increasing amount of taxpayer dollars, calls those who dare to disagree "arrogant and selfish." Most important, Mr. Whiteman ignores the fact that public schools are not graduating "well educated" children, even though spending has increased enormously. Per student spending has almost doubled, after inflation, since 1975, while SAT scores remain mediocre (65th percentile). When will Mr. Whiteman and his organization learn that spending more taxpayer dollars is not the solution to every problem?

In the end, Mr. Whiteman's shocking comments speak for themselves. They serve to put taxpayers on notice that the battle against increased taxes is ongoing, and those who fight it will be subjected to insults and name-calling. In contrast, the FCTA will continue to advocate fiscal responsibility, government efficiency, and lower taxes - by presenting the facts.

By Mark A. Collins


It is no small irony that Mr. Whiteman,
who purports to know best how to spend
an ever-increasing amount of taxpayer
dollars, calls those who dare to disagree
"arrogant and selfish."


The latest threat to Fairfax County taxpayers is an unhappy case of deja vu: The Fairfax County School Board (the "School Board") has released its 1999 Legislative Program, and once again the School Board is asking Virginia legislators to authorize local school boards to independently levy new taxes on their constituents. The School Board also advocates a variety of new or increased taxes, ranging from a new local income tax to increased sales and cigarette taxes.

Specifically, the School Board supports amendments to the Virginia Constitution that will empower elected school boards to impose taxes separate from (and in addition to) taxes already imposed by county government. In addition, the School Board seeks a "menu of tax options for localities to select from according to local need." The Legislative Program advocates "additional sources of tax revenue be made available, either by creating new instruments of taxation; permitting all localities to levy a piggyback local income tax; extending and/or raising the maximum limits on existing taxes, such as the sales or the cigarette tax."

This is one menu that is sure to turn the stomach of Fairfax County taxpayers. Exhibiting a seemingly insatiable desire for taxpayer dollars, the School Board refuses to come to grips with the fact that higher taxes and spending doesn't necessarily raise academic achievement. Per student spending has increased 70% after inflation since 1975, yet standardized test scores have remained flat at the 75th percentile. Since 1988, Fairfax County Public Schools SAT scores have not increased from the 65th percentile. Instead of again "shaking down" the taxpayers, the School Board needs to take a hard look at its own performance, identify and eliminate unproductive programs and utilize the savings to satisfy any new funding requirements.

Of course, this is not the first time the School Board has advocated these new burdens on taxpayers - its 1998 Legislative Program did much the same thing. As a result, in the fall of 1997 the FCTA surveyed all Fairfax County candidates for the House of Delegates, asking whether they would commit to opposing the array of new taxes advocated by the School Board. Taxpayers should take some comfort that certain delegates to the Virginia General Assembly offered that commitment, including Delegates David Albo, Vincent Callahan, Jr., Jeannemarie Devolites, and Jay O'Brien. Delegate Vivian E. Watts committed to opposing independent taxing authority for local school boards. The FCTA encourages all of its members to contact their delegates and senators and urge them to oppose the new taxes advocated by the School Board in 1999.

By Mark A. Collins

"Big Brother"

Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the national volunteer organization Eagle Forum, recently reported on a proposed FDIC regulation, "Know Your Customer," that would require each bank to . . . "determine the identity of all its customers, determine each customer's sources of funds; determine each customer's normal and expected bank transactions; monitor the activity of each account, looking for deposits and withdrawals that are inconsistent with the expected pattern of financial transactions; and report any transactions that someone might call "suspicious."

In addition, . . . "if you deviate significantly from this pattern (such as by earning some extra money or buying or selling a car), your once-friendly bank will report the "inconsistent" transactions to a federal database."

You can find more information on the following Web Page - http://www.fdic.gov/banknews/know.html

You can reach the FDIC directly at 202-393-8400 or by sending an e-mail to comments@fdic.gov The comment period ends March 8, 1999. T. Pfister

No car tax. These three little words swept a candidate into the governor's mansion and kept Virginia state legislators working overtime in the longest legislative session in recent history.

While I am no fan of the car tax, at least there was some consolation in the fact that I paid considerably less tax on my 1985 Japanese hatchback than my neighbors paid on their late-model Swedish and German sedans.

Unpopular though it may be, the car tax is based on a clear-cut system that uses the year, make, and model of the vehicle to determine the amount of tax to be paid. Can the same be said for the process used to determine residential property assessments?

Those who disagree with their assessments can file an appeal with the Fairfax County Department of Tax Administration (DTA) and eventually appeal to the Fairfax County Board of Equalization (BOE).

When the Fairfax County Parkway was routed just behind David Olson's property, he appealed the revised assessment because he felt it did not adequately reflect the negative effect on the value of his property. He cited the case of his next-door neighbor who, because of the proximity of the parkway and the high noise level, was unable to sell his property even at a price below the assessed value. The comparator properties used by the DTA to justify his assessment were all located much farther from the parkway. The Board ruled against Mr. Olson.

However, noise does become a factor when it supports the county tax assessor's case. When I questioned why I paid higher taxes on a vintage rambler than my neighbors paid on newer, higher-priced colonials just across the street, the DTA replied it was because the colonials are closer to the beltway and "the noise level in their back yard is greater than in [my backyard]."

Frederick Suffa, Chairman of the Board of Equalization, says the Board will only consider a reduction in taxes when the owner can produce documented proof of a decreased dollar-value and its direct correlation to a specific condition.

Henry Delima thought he had such proof. When the Delimas built a house in McLean, the DTA assessed the property based on the prices of nearby homes with similar living space. But the assessment per square foot of the comparator homes was lower than Delima's. Using the DTA's own figures on the square foot value of the properties they had chosen as comparable, Delima showed that his house was assessed higher. The BOE refused to change the assessment, saying there were other factors besides square footage that determined an assessment, but neither they nor the DTA assessors were able to specify what these factors were in Delima's case. "It was like I was wasting my time." Delima said.

Jack Cooper, an independent real estate appraiser with 36 years of experience, says an appraiser would normally check the sales prices of similar properties not affected by the negative condition and factor in any difference. The golden rule for appraisers, he says, is "staying in the subject neighborhood and being sure you are comparing like properties." An appraiser looks not only at the sales price of comparable properties, but will check on their actual interior condition and amenities. But, Cooper stresses, an assessment is not an appraisal.

Like Delima, several other homeowners had done their homework by checking on assessments of neighboring properties, pointing out disparities in the DTA comparator properties, and checking with real estate agents on the current market value of their properties and recent sales in the neighborhood. A number of them said that Board members were dismissive of their supporting evidence.

Discrepancies and inequities in the real estate assessment system, whatever their origin, can only be corrected if homeowners are vigilant and are willing to pursue an appeal when warranted. Homeowner associations should check periodically on neighborhood assessments and query significant variations, advising their district supervisors as well as the DTA of any concerns.

by Gail Berre

Hidden Costs of Government

When I got back from a recent vacation, I found the phone companies had charged us for the following government taxes and fees, scattered around our bill:

3.50 Federal Subscriber Line Charge
1.75    911 Tax Local
0.16 Virginia Relay Center Surcharge
0.50 Public Rights-of-way Use Fee
0.58 Taxes Federal
4.83 Taxes Local
0.64 State and local taxes-out of state
0.42 State and local Surcharges - out of state
1.07 National Access Fee
4.54 Federal Universal Service Fee
0.08 Federal Tax (collect call from pay phone)
0.21 Universal Service Fund
0.30 Federal Tax

$ 18.59 Total government taxes and fees

The fees added 17.7% to my phone bill in direct charges. It would have been $ 104.37 without the taxes and fees. Hidden in that $ 104.37 is the unknown but surely a substantial amount of money the phone companies had to spend for collecting, distributing, and recording of data for the taxes and fees involved. Add the costs of state and federal audits and the cost must be another 3-5% of my bill.

Probably not one in 100 taxpayers realizes they are carrying these hidden burdens of government. Until they do, proliferation of such hidden burdens will continue to grow in the future. While a Federal flat tax or sales tax would be a big help, that would not fix the local and state problems. The fragmentation of the taxes and fees has got to be the most inefficient and burdensome way to collect taxes and fees that can be imagined. It illustrates what happens when governments keep adding taxes and fees on more and more aspects of our lives, and why new government initiatives must be brought under control by our elected representatives. If you think the phone tax and fee situation is bad, wait until you see what our legislators do to Internet services if taxpayers do nothing to stop them.

By Ludwig Benner

Wait. There's more.

January 4, 1999

The Washington Post reports that we can expect new monthly charges to begin appearing on our phone bills. We now pay a "federal subscriber line charge" of $3.50 a month for our first phone line and $5.00 a month for each additional line. Starting this month we will be charged a fee of $6.07 per month for additional phone lines. Look for an additional charge of between 60 and 75 cents per line in July.

In addition, federal regulators have given the phone companies permission to impose a new charge of as much as $1 per month to pay for "upgrades that would allow people to keep their phone number while changing local service providers." Perhaps, if enough people call to complain, the phone companies will refrain from passing this new charge onto consumers. T. Pfister

"None Dare Call It Conspiracy"

Back in 1972 Gary Allen and Larry Abraham authored a book titled "None Dare Call It Conspiracy." In this book Mr. Allen listed what he called fourteen signposts on the road to totalitarianism. They are:

  1. .Restrictions on taking money out of the country and on the establishment or retention of a foreign bank account by an American citizen.
  2. Abolition of private ownership of hand guns.
  3. .Detention of individuals without judicial process.
  4. .Requirements that private financial transactions be keyed to social security numbers or other government identification so that government records of these transactions can be fed into a computer.
  5. .Use of compulsory education laws to forbid attendance at presently existing private school.
  6. .Compulsory non-military service.
  7. .Compulsory psychological treatment for non government workers or public school children.
  8. .An official declaration that anti-communist organizations are subversive and subsequent legal action taken to suppress them.
  9. .Laws limiting the number of people allowed to meet in a private home.
  10. .Any significant change in passport regulations to make passports more difficult to obtain.
  11. .Wage and price controls, especially in a non-wartime situation.
  12. .Any kind of compulsory registration with the government of where individuals work.
  13. .Any attempt to restrict freedom of movement within the United States.
  14. .Any attempt to make a new major law by executive decree ( that is, actually put into effect, not merely authorized as by existing executive orders.)

It looks to me like the "Bridge to the 21st Century" is being paved with lost freedoms. T.Pfister


In the January 9 edition of The Washington Post, we learn that " More than 97 percent of Virginia's public schools have flunked the first round of the state's new student achievement tests. . . ." Mark Emery, chairman of the Fairfax County School Board, laments "How can anyone expect our parents and students to take the SOL [ Standards of Learning ] exams seriously when they know that students in Fairfax are setting standards on every national exam and benchmark, sending students to some of the finest colleges in the country and yet failing the state tests?" Mr. Emory has indicated that he was "stunned" by the results.

I too am stunned. I am stunned when only 17 of 398 schools in Northern Virginia are able to meet the new Virginia state standards. I am stunned that Mr. Emory would suggest that students in Fairfax County are . . . "setting standards on every national exam. . . ." when the average Fairfax County senior scores only at the 64th percentile on the SAT's.

I am stunned that Mr. Emory would mention that county students are attending some of the "finest colleges in the country" without also mentioning that statewide only about 55% of high school seniors who attend four-year colleges actually graduate. Are the results likely to be significantly different for Fairfax County students?

I am stunned that had the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors not allowed County spending to increase twice as fast as inflation and population during the 1980's, the average Fairfax County household would be paying $1000 per year in taxes instead of $3000 per year.

Since 1975, county taxpayers have paid six billion dollars more for school and county services than can be justified by inflation and population growth. The Fairfax County School Board is now again advocating that it should be given independent taxing authority, while at the same time, also advocating a new local income tax. T. Pfister

© 1999 by the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, Inc.

The Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance
P.O. Box 356
Fairfax, Va. 22030




Have You Renewed Your

Membership for 1999?

The Taxpayers Alliance supports lower taxes, less spending, and restrained borrowing by our government as well as citizen participation in government through initiative, referendum and recall. We testify at public hearings, write citizens committees, disseminate voting records of elected officials, write 'op-ed' articles and letters to newspaper editors, provide speakers to citizens groups and analyze and disseminate information on budgets, taxes and borrowing.

In order to successfully discharge our duties we need volunteers and dues-paying members. If you would like to contribute your time or money to further our efforts, we would like to hear from you. Please take the time now to fill out and send in your membership renewal application along with your dues and/or contribution. We would like to thank you for your past and continued support.

_____ Please enroll me as a member of the Taxpayers Alliance ($15)

_____ Please renew my membership in FCTA (dues $15)

_____ I would like to learn more about volunteering. Please call me.

Name(s)____________________________________   Mail To: The Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance

Address____________________________________         P.O. Box 356

City/State/Zip_______________________________   Fairfax, Va. 22030

Telephone__________________________________   703-642-5567     INT

My e-mail address is _____________________@___________________________