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
$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
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
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
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
ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP MEETING SCHEDULED FOR TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21
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
The Chapel Square Center is near the Beltway, between Braddock Road and Little River Turnpike. Please see
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
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.
HOUSE OF DELEGATES CANDIDATES OPPOSE NEW
OR INCREASED TAXES IN FAIRFAX COUNTY
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
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
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
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)