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1997 Fall Bulletin



Schools Spend $100+ Million per Year on Ineffective Programs

On November 4 Fairfax County voters should defeat the $232 million Fairfax County Public School System bond referendum because it spends millions on projects that could be funded from the schools' operating budget.

Of the $232 million referendum proposed this November, $87 million is for new construction and the remaining $145 million is for school renovations.

The school system has a goal of renovating all buildings every 25 years. To do so, each year it must renovate five or six elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. All of this currently costs about $75 million per year.

The FCTA agrees with the construction and renovation goals of the referendum.

However, the school system is spending at least $100 million a year on ineffective programs. The Fairfax County School Board should redirect this $100 million to building renovations and reduce the amount of the bond referendum.

In a September 3, 1997 letter to the FCTA, School Board chairman Kristen J. Amundson confirmed that since 1975 per-student spending has increased faster than inflation. She acknowledges that the FY98 school operating budget of $1.1 billion is $534 million more than it would have been if per-student spending had not increased faster than inflation since 1975. Her letter then lists the FY98 cost of budget items that grew faster than enrollment and inflation since 1975. A reference table can be found at our website: www.crosslink.net/~fcta/

[Figure 1. (temporarily removed)]

While per-student spending increased, student achievement remained flat. Figure 1 shows the increase in per-student spending over this period. Since 1975, schools have spent $5.7 billion more than was required to keep up with enrollment and inflation. Of this, $3.9 billion has been spent since 1990.

[Figure 2. (temporarily removed)]

Figure 2 shows that since 1975, standardized test scores, including SATs, have remained flat. Were the increases in the school budget wisely spent? As the April 1997 management review of the school system points out, the schools are " . . . constantly implementing new programs without having time to adequately evaluate the effectiveness of existing programs" (A Management Review of Fairfax County Public Schools: Final Report, April 10, 1997, p. 3-38). Also, for two years, the school administration has published program budgets that were supposed to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of instructional programs but did not. In a surprising confirmation of the FCTA's views, the management review reported that a plurality of teachers (42%) believe that the school system is not spending taxpayer dollars wisely. Only 37% of teachers agreed that the school system was spending tax dollars wisely (p. 2-18).

The following lists the FY98 costs of programs that, according to Chairman Amundson's letter, have grown faster than inflation and enrollment since 1975 but whose effectiveness the FCTA questions:

$12.8 million for "Elementary School Guidance Counselors" - These counselors were supposed to improve behavior and raise achievement. Since their introduction, achievement has not improved and behavior is worse. The Virginia Board of Education just eliminated the mandate for these counselors.

$27.1 million for "Restructured Secondary Instruction" - This refers to the seven-period day. Because the County has no standardized tests for academic courses, there is no evidence on how an extra subject and shorter periods have impacted student achievement, which may have declined. This also funds block scheduling, which also has not increased student achievement.

$9.7 million for "Special Needs Schools" - This provides an extra secretary and one or two extra teachers for schools with large disadvantaged populations. This program has provided no increase in achievement.

$6.3 million for "Grade One Reduced Ratio" - This provides a 15-to-1 student-teacher ratio for disadvantaged first-grade classes. An evaluation of this program, which creates a need for 80 additional classrooms, provided mixed results.

$5.9 million for the "Family and Early Childhood Education Program (FECEP)" - This program, better known as "Head Start," provides care for disadvantaged preschool children. It is a $7 million federally mandated program for which the federal government pays only $333,000. By fourth grade students who have had Head Start perform no better than students who have not had Head Start.

$0.5 million for the "International Baccalaureate Program" - This is a growing program that provides a European-based replacement for the College Board's Advanced Placement program. There was no need to replace the Advanced Placement program.

$25.6 million to fund an "Increase in Nonteaching Positions in Proportion to Enrollment" - This confirms the FCTA's repeated claim that school administration and clerical help have increased relative to enrollment. Last April's Management Review of Fairfax County Public Schools reported that: 60% of teachers believe the school system has too many committees; and 64% of teachers believe the school system has too many layers of administrators.

$38.7 million for "Expanded Technology Use" - Expanded technology has not increased achievement and has not reduced administrative costs. While there is a need for increased technology, why not cut this program in half?

These items would save more than $100 million per year. If these programs were phased out over two or three years, many of the employees affected could be rehired into other positions. Currently the school system hires about 1000 teachers a year.

To raise achievement and help disadvantaged children, schools need a better curriculum. The current elementary school curriculum does not prepare children for demanding high school courses. The principal need is for phonics-based reading instruction, which a majority of the school board consistently opposes. Children who cannot read cannot learn. Also needed is a proven arithmetic curriculum that emphasizes drill instead of hand calculators, and much more instruction in history, geography, good literature and grammar. One curriculum that has a proven ability to raise achievement is the Direct Instruction curriculum developed by Sigfreid Englemann of the University of Oregon. The May/June issue of the American Teacher, the official publication of the American Federation of Teachers, gives the example of an inner-city elementary school in Houston where students taught with Direct Instruction " . . . consistently outperform students in the affluent suburbs . . . " ("An instructional program that's worth stealing," pp. 10-12). The reading portion of Direct Instruction is phonics-based. Both the reading and arithmetic components employ extensive drill. The article cites a 1996 review of 34 studies comparing Direct Instruction with other approaches. In this review the findings favored Direct Instruction 87% of the time.

Chairman Amundson's letter raises important questions about other issues. Of the $534 million increase, the largest portion, $207.6 million, is for salary increases. Her letter states that most of the increases went to fringe benefits, principally social security and health insurance. She states that between 1975 and 1994 fringe benefit costs nearly quintupled. Why? Did social security and health insurance benefits increase or are we paying higher premiums for the same benefits?

The second largest cost growth occurred in Special Education, which increased $100 million more than required to keep up with overall enrollment growth and inflation. While overall enrollment increased 10.7% between 1975 and 1998, enrollment in Self-contained Special Education classes increased 366% (34 times faster). Enrollment in the Special Education resource program (where Special Education children remain in the regular classroom) increased 164%, 15 times faster than overall enrollment. Why has Special Education enrollment increased so much faster than overall enrollment and is this expected to continue?

One of the largest Special Education programs is for "Learning Disabled" (LD) children. There is evidence that many children are mislabeled as LD because they received inadequate reading and arithmetic instruction in the regular classroom.

Another $20 million was spent to reduce elementary school average class size from 30-1 to 25-1. Is there any evidence that this has raised student achievement?

Programs for disruptive students have grown $17.8 million more than would be necessary to keep up with overall enrollment growth and inflation. Is the school system addressing the symptoms or causes of student misbehavior? Programs to improve behavior - guidance counseling, Family Life Education, peer mediation, and peer counseling are not working. Indeed, the schools' guidance philosophy, which is to teach students to evaluate authority rather than obey it, may contribute to student misbehavior. Students bring to the classroom the behavior they learn outside the classroom. Many believe that music, movies, and videos negatively and profoundly influence this behavior. What are the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the national PTA, and the many other professional organizations for school teachers and administrators doing to counter the media's corrupting influence on children?

Finally, Chairman Amundson's letter states that the cost of textbooks and library materials has quadrupled since 1975, largely due to the escalating cost of paper. This contributes to $19.1 of the $534 million increase. Why have paper costs escalated? Are there not other measures that can be taken to reduce textbook costs?

Chairman Amundson's letter did not attempt to justify the spending increases in terms of higher achievement, better buildings, or better student behavior. Her justification was that Fairfax County's spending growth was "almost identical" to the growth for the average school system in Virginia. In that case, neighboring school systems might be able to find similar savings.

By Arthur Purves


Guest Speaker Is Former Fairfax County Auditor, Jim Hogan

The Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance annual membership meeting and election will be held from 7:30-9:00 p.m. in Room 3 at the Chapel Square Center, 4414 Holborn Avenue in Annandale. The Chapel Square Center is collocated with the Braddock District government center. To get to Room 3, enter the side door and turn left immediately.

The Chapel Square Center is near the Beltway, between Braddock Road and Little River Turnpike. Please see the map.

FCTA district directors will be elected for two-year terms. The executive board and at-large directors are elected in even-numbered years, also for two-year terms.

The FCTA is honored to have as its guest speaker, Mr. Jim Hogan, who was Fairfax County auditor from 1994-96. Mr. Hogan will discuss the need for a county auditor. He is a certified public accountant and has 22 years experience in government financial management and budgeting. Mr. Hogan is a 22-year resident of Fairfax County.

The agenda will also address this year's accomplishments and next year's goals.

All FCTA members are invited and encouraged to attend. Coffee and donuts will be served.



Results of Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance Pre-Election Survey

By Mark Collins

As reported in a previous FCTA newsletter, the Fairfax County School Board 1997 Legislative Program advocated independent taxing authority for local school boards. The 1997 Legislative Program also sought authorization for additional taxes, including a new county income tax and increased county sales taxes, to provide more revenue for schools. Although these proposals did not receive sponsorship during the 1997 General Assembly session, the FCTA anticipates that the Fairfax County School Board will renew its effort to increase taxes after the upcoming election.

In response to this alarming prospect of new and increased taxes upon already overburdened Fairfax County taxpayers, the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance conducted a survey of all Virginia House of Delegates candidates from Fairfax County. The FCTA sought the candidates' commitment to oppose the new taxes sought by the Fairfax County School Board by asking the following questions:

If elected, will you oppose: A new Fairfax County income tax?

An increase in the sales tax for Fairfax County?

Creation of other new taxes for Fairfax County?

Independent taxing authority for local school boards?

Fairfax County taxpayers should be reassured that many of their candidates for House of Delegates are in favor of fiscal responsibility over ever-increasing taxation. The FCTA thanks and commends the following candidates, who have committed to opposing a County income tax, increased sales taxes, any other new taxes, and independent taxing authority for local school boards:

Mr. David B. Albo (District 42)

Mr. Gary L. Alexander (district 36)

Mr. Ross B. Bell (District 45)

Mr. Vincent F. Callahan, Jr. (District 34)

Mr. Michael G. Davis (District 38)

Ms. Jeannemarie A. Devolites (District 35)

Mr. Ali M. Ghaemi (District 42)

Ms. Marta S. Howard (District 35)

Mr. Kip R. Karl (District 44)

Mr. George E. Lovelace (District 35)

Mr. C.C. "Dan" McGuire (District 36)

Mr. James K. "Jay" O'Brien, Jr. (District 40)

Mr. R.D. "Dick" Smith (District 48)

The following candidates offered some commitment to opposing increased taxes in Fairfax County:

Ms. Carole L. Herrick (District 34)

Candidate Herrick will oppose independent taxing authority for local school boards, and will "probably" oppose a new county income tax and increased sales tax. She will not oppose creating other new taxes in Fairfax County.

Mr. R.E. "Bob" Primack (District 33)

Candidate Primack will oppose independent taxing authority for local school boards, a new County income tax, and increased sales tax. He will not commit to opposing the creation of other new taxes in Fairfax County, stating that the issue "depends upon the tax and specificity."

Ms. Vivian E. Watts (District 39)

Candidate Watts will oppose independent taxing authority for local school boards, but will not commit to opposing a new County income tax, increased sales tax, or creation of other new taxes in Fairfax County.

Only one House of Delegates candidate responded that she would not oppose any potential new tax in Fairfax County:

Ms. K.E. "Kate" Fisher (District 32) Candidate Fisher stated that she will not oppose independent taxing authority for local school boards, a new County income tax, increased sales tax, or creation of other new taxes in Fairfax County. She stated that "County residents and business owners want to see BPOL and personal property taxes reduced; to do this we need to consider other taxes to replace them. I want to leave myself open to the fairest and most balanced system."

The FCTA thanks all of the above candidates who responded to the survey, indicating their recognition of Fairfax County taxpayers' concern over tax issues. The FCTA also commends these candidates' willingness to take a public stand on the issues.

Unfortunately for Fairfax County taxpayers, the following candidates failed to respond to the FCTA survey, and therefore offer no commitment to opposing independent taxing authority for local school boards, a new County income tax, increased sales tax, or creation of other new taxes in Fairfax County:

Mr. William C. (Bill) Mims (District 32)

Mr. Kenneth P. Halla (District 33)

Mr. Joe T. May (District 33)

Mr. Kenneth R. (Ken) Plum (District 36)

Mr. L.P. (Les) Schoene, Jr. (District 37)

Mr. John H. Rust, Jr. (District 37)

Mr. Robert D. (Bob) Hull (District 38)

Mr. Matthew J. Kershes (District 39)

Mr. C.W. (Levi) Levy (District 39)

Mr. Robert C. Greene (District 40)

Mr. James H. (Jim) Dillard II (District 41)

Ms. Gladys B. Keating (District 43)

Mr. Thomas M. (Tom) Bolvin (District 43)

Ms. Linda T. (Toddy) Puller (District 44)

Ms. Marian A. Van Landingham (District 45)

Mr. James F. Almand (District 47)

Mr. Robert H. Brink (District 48)

Mr. S. John Massoud (District 48)

Mr. James M. (Jim) Scott (District 53)