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1997 Spring Bulletin

 Fairfax County Public Schools Demand Higher Taxes For Minimal Results. . .

While the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is apparently holding the line on taxes this year, the Fairfax County School Board is lobbying for higher taxes, including a new county piggy-back income tax. (See Mark Collins' article for more information.)

Figure 1. Percent Growth in Fairfax County Taxes and Spending, 1975-97

The last twenty years demonstrate that schools don't need independent taxing authority; they need more accountability and a better curriculum. Figure 1 shows that schools have already received increased revenues resulting from higher taxes. Over the last twenty years, while inflation increased 198%, Fairfax County per-capita taxes increased 381% and per-student spending increased 465%. Schools are the major driver for higher taxes since per-student spending increased more than taxes while the county's non-school spending increased less than taxes (290%).

This refutes claims made last year by School Board Vice-Chairman, Mark H. Emery. Mr. Emery stated in budget briefings that per-student spending had not kept up with inflation. However, Mr. Emery used figures starting in 1991. He ignored the previous 15 years during which school spending increased much faster than both enrollment and inflation.

Figure 2 shows that if school spending had increased at the same rate as enrollment and inflation, this year's school budget would have been $515 million less than it is. When forced to admit this fact, school officials suggest that most of the $515 million was needed for Special Education and English As a Second Language (ESL) programs. (ESL is the program to teach English to immigrant children.) Special Education and ESL account for only 20% of the increase. The biggest portion of the increase went to higher salaries and benefits (36%) for school employees. About $75 million of the increase was for administration, including clerical help, and for more guidance counselors, social workers, and school psychologists.

The school administration states that an additional $500 million is needed over the next ten years to fund school renovations and construction. Had school spending increased no faster than enrollment and inflation, there would have been ample money for building renovation and construction with the tax increases already imposed upon the taxpayers.

Since 1978 the number of administrative and clerical personnel has increased 72%, six times faster than enrollment, which increased only 11%. The number of guidance counselors, social workers, and psychologists has increased 124%, or eleven times faster than enrollment.

Figure 2. The School Budget Has Increased Faster

Than Enrollment and Inflation . . .

What has the taxpayer gotten for the 465% increase in per student spending? Fairfax County School Superintendent, Dr. Robert R. Spillane, frequently sites increasing SAT scores that are higher than the national average as evidence that Fairfax County Public Schools are an excellent school system. While it is true that Fairfax County's average score has increased 40 points since 1975, that is only a 7% increase.

The county's average SAT score of 1096 is only at the 65th percentile, which is much less than what one would expect of an excellent school system. To be at the 80th percentile, the average score would have to increase another 100 points.

Standardized test scores, which are available only since 1983, are flat. That SAT scores have increased while standardized test scores have not suggests that the improvement in SAT scores may be due to more students taking SAT prep courses than to higher classroom standards. In addition, there has been no improvement in the minority student achievement gap.

The number of Learning-Disabled students has increased much faster than overall enrollment. However, many students who are classified as Learning Disabled would have succeeded in the regular classroom had they received phonics-based reading instruction.

Despite the large increase in administration, guidance counselors, social workers, and psychologists, behavior is worse. Finally, not withstanding the large increase in spending, buildings are overcrowded and overdue for renovations.

The solution to these problems is not higher taxes.

It is more accountability and a better curriculum.

In February, 1995, the school board asked the school administration to evaluate "all current instructional programs and to determine whether these programs are effectively serving the purposes for which they were intended." The result was the 1995 and 1996 "Program Budgets" that identify over sixty programs but do not evaluate them.

The only academic graduation requirement is the Virginia Literacy Passport Test, which most students pass in the sixth grade. Dr. Spillane has stated that school standards are "too vague or too malleable to be meaningful" ("Education Week", June 2, 1993). The school administration's latest plan to raise standards, "The Fairfax Framework for Student Success" states on page 5 "The higher standards that the Framework supports will not, by themselves, raise student achievement, nor can the schools alone guarantee student success." Of what use are higher standards if they do not raise achievement?

Not only do school administrators believe that they cannot raise achievement, it is no longer their goal. As the principal of Oakton High School has stated, the current goal is the"socialization" of students. So rather than focus on phonics, vocabulary, grammar, expository writing, algebra, and geography, schools now focus on vague outcomes such as "Understanding

Self and Others", "Exploring Occupations", "Making Decisions", and "Planning for Life." These are the goals of the schools new Professional/ Technical Studies program and are listed in the schools' May, 1996" Implementation Report."

There are two curricula that would raise student achievement. One is the "Core Knowledge Sequence" developed by University of Virginia Professor E. D. Hirsch and popularized in his series "What Your Kindergartner, 1st Grader, . . . , 6th Grader Needs to Know." Dr. Hirsch's secret

is to have students study geography , American, and world history every year in elementary school. Under the current curriculum, elementary students get only one year each of Virginia, American, and world history, and essentially no geography. The school board just voted to allow seven elementary schools to pilot Core Knowledge. The other program was developed 20 years ago at the University of Oregon. Known as "Direct Instruction" its effectiveness in teaching reading and arithmetic to all low achieving students, including low income students, has been extensively tested and verified in classroom testing. Although it is commercially available from SRA/McGraw Hill, Dr. Spillane and School Board Chairman Chris Amundson oppose Direct Instruction.

Arthur Purves

School's Proposed Student Information System Goes Overboard

The school system has decided to go ahead with purchase of a computer program and equipment for a new Student Information System, referred to as the SIS, at a cost of 11 million dollars. This system will keep all student information in a central computer system to improve efficiency, it is said. This purchase is only the first of three steps planned to computerize the schools.

The computers and printers that the school system has right now are so old that repair parts aren't made any longer. But the new system does much more than get new equipment. A new computer program to store all the student information, which will cost 2.5 million dollars is being purchased. This program is planned to include audio and video, which will require a lot more computer storage space, which means increased cost. The question is, why is such information being put on computer? In addition, there are no school board policies to control what information is stored, or how it is used. Parents who became concerned with this lack of oversight were ignored by the majority of the school board.

Does this lack of oversight sound familiar? Just last year County Executive Leidinger was fired for not telling the Board of Supervisors about the growth of a computer contract. Let's hope the school board wises up before more of our tax money is wasted.

Doug Barylski

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New Virginia Education Standards Good for Students and Taxpayers

New state tests for students in several grades will be tried in some schools this year as part of Virginia's plan to improve education and accountability. The tests will help determine how well our children meet Governor Allen's Standards of Learning. Eventually, passing the tests in 11th grade will a requirement for graduation. Currently, a 6th grade literacy test is the only test required.

New State Standards of Accreditation for schools are also being proposed this year. These standards will for the first time require schools to meet state academic requirements or lose accreditation. The current accreditation requirements only cover such things as meeting fire codes.

Many states already require passing standard tests for graduation, and have accreditation standards for schools based on academic performance.

Fairfax County Public School officials are not worried about meeting the new higher standards, since our schools exceed existing state standards. Let's hope so, or we'll have big concerns regarding past tax increases!

Doug Barylski

Fairfax County Taxpayers Fooled Again . . .

In 1996 a majority of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted for a seven cent ($ .07) per $100 valuation increase in property taxes that was not needed. The approximately $58,000,000.00 (fifty-eight million dollars) 1997 surplus of the County School Board and Board of Supervisors proves the point. The FY 1996 tax increase raised $49,000,000.00 (forty-nine million dollars) more than the FY 1996 actual budget needs. That means that without any tax increase in 1996 Fairfax County would still have had approximately a $9,000,000.00 (nine million dollars) surplus in 1997.

There are two possible reasons for this costly "mistake": The majority on the Board of Supervisors do not know how to assess the needs of the county or they see Fairfax County tax payers as deep pockets for funding bigger government. Either way, the taxpayers have been fooled again.

The additional fallout is that the majority of supervisors have lost interest in downsizing and streamlining our bloated county government and are looking for ways to spend the surplus dollars. We call on these supervisors to embrace fiscal responsibility and respect the public trust placed in them by the taxpayers. The upcoming public hearings on the FY 1998 budget April 7th through the 9th at 7:30 p.m. at the County Government Center will provide the opportunity to correct the excesses of the 1996 tax hike.

The following supervisors voted for the unnecessary tax increase: Chairman Kate Hanley, Sharon Bulova, Gerry Hyland, Gerry Connolly, Penny Gross and Dana Kauffman. These supervisors opposed the tax increase: Bob Dix, Elaine McConnell, Michael Frey and Stu Mendelsohn.

Elizabeth Smith

The Fairfax County School Board Seeks Taxing Authority And A County Income Tax . . .

The Fairfax County School Board 1997 Legislative Program requests that the Virginia State Legislature grant independent taxing authority to local school boards. It also asks the legislature to authorize additional taxes, including a county income tax and increased county sales taxes, to provide more revenue for schools.

The FCTA vigorously opposes these new and onerous tax measures. Instead of seeking ever more tax dollars to fund ineffective programs and a bloated bureaucracy, the Fairfax County School Board should balance its budget by assessing program effectiveness, eliminating ineffective programs, and utilizing proven curricula.

The Virginia General Assembly did not consider these new tax measures in its 1997 session since this is an election year. The Fairfax County School Board will likely renew its efforts to obtain independent taxing authority and a county income tax next year, however, and the FCTA will stand ready to publicize and oppose this potential new burden on taxpayers. The FCTA encourages you to contact your state representatives and make your feelings known on this important issue.

Mark Collins

Alliance Elects New Board at Annual Membership Meeting

At its October 15, 1996, annual membership meeting, the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance elected new leadership. The new Executive Board is: Arthur Purves, President; Tom Pfister, First Vice-President; John Page, Second Vice-President; Tom Beck, Treasurer; and Perry Young, Secretary.

Elected as At-Large Directors were Roger McKinley, Tom Beck, I. M. ("Smokey") Ryan, and Doug Barylski. The Executive Board and At-Large directors serve for two years.

At the meeting, Mr. Purves thanked outgoing President, Dorothy Tella, for her four years of service as F. C. T. A. president. Mrs. Tella has done impeccable research, published fact-filled and informative newsletters, and has spoken resolutely for taxpayers at public hearings and in the press. She has set a standard of excellence that will challenge future boards for many years.

Don Lynch, whose column appears weekly in the Fairfax Journal, was guest speaker at the meeting. Citing the overwhelming opposition facing the Taxpayers Alliance, Mr. Lynch reminded members of Winston Churchill's advice to his alma mater during World War II: Never give in.

Members also voted to amend Article XI, Section 1, of the bylaws, as follows, by deleting "monthly": The Board of Directors shall meet [monthly,] at the call of the president, or of any member of the Board of Directors with the agreement of any four or more other members of the Board of Directors, who shall set the date, time and place of such meetings.

Mr. Purves and his wife, Carol, have lived in Fairfax County for 21 years. They are the parents of two children, both of whom graduated from Fairfax County Public Schools. Last year, Mr. Purves ran, unsuccessfully, for the Hunter Mill District seat on the Fairfax County School Board.

At its meeting on March 5, 1997, the board elected Elizabeth Smith for a one-year term as District Director for Dranesville and Bob Beck and Ludwig Benner as At-Large Directors.


Tax his cow, tax his goat

Tax his pants, tax his coat,

Tax his crops, tax his work,

Tax his tie, tax his shirt,

Tax his chew, tax his smoke;

Teach him taxes are no joke.

Tax his oil, tax his gas,

Tax his notes, tax his cash;

Tax him good and let him know-

After taxes he has no dough.

If he hollers, tax him more

Tax him till he's good and sore.

Tax his coffin, tax his grave,

Tax the sod in which he lays.

Put these words upon his tomb: "Taxes drove me to my doom." And after he's gone he can't relax

They'll still be after inheritance tax!

This poem was provided by a constituent of Rep. Sue Myrick, North Carolina Republican.

The following letter is from a retired Fairfax County teacher. The literature being referred to is entitled "Do Fairfax County Public Schools Really Need Another Tax Increase?"

Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance

P.0. Box 356

Fairfax, VA 22030

Dear Sirs:

I was pleased to find your literature re the County School Board request for a County income tax (11/22/96) lying on a table in the new government building. Since I had to sit through an entire Board of Supervisors' meeting, I realized for the umpteenth time how bureaucracy stands in the way of progress.

For several years I edited a publication called On the Level for FCFT, the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers. The Federation is wholeheartedly in concurrence with you on virtually every point made in the flyer. If this County could be persuaded to demand administrative accountability, to examine each new educational whim and whimsy designed to make administration look good, countless taxpayer dollars could be reapportioned to actually bring about improved curriculum and test scores.

As a high school teacher in Fairfax County I've observed, for twenty-six years, the self-seeking, self-perpetuating, self-aggrandizing efforts by the School Board to manipulate and to maintain control. Dr. Spillane has even managed to doctor the budget so as to hide countless adrninistrative jobs under the guise of "teacher." Have you checked out the numbers of non-school-based teaching personnel there are? Lauded budget cuts are more often buried in the ranks of custodial or secretarial staff. Critical positions are likely to be staffed by aides, many of whom are dedicated professionals willing to work at near-poverty levels because of the young people in their charge.

The Fairfax County Public Schools is rife with situations like this and yet we have had difficulty disseminating the information. Teachers are timid (translated: afraid) to speak out. I personally was threatened with reprisal more than once, especially concerning cover-ups re performance evaluation, block scheduling, faculty advisory committees, disciplinary procedures, and many others.

I was lucky to "graduate" with the Class of 1996 and retire. It offers me not only the opportunity for relaxation and creativity, but to be able to openly speak my mind without fear of reprisal. I agree with you. Our schools don't need increased taxes or shifts in the tax base. They need sensible, and reasonable evaluation and the application of a giant, well-sharpened pin to the bloated bureaucracy which is crippling the school system.

Here's my check!


Cynthia E. Rufty

Mason Neck, VA

January 15, 1997

P.S.; If you have any more of the blue flyers explaining this, could you let me have a dozen or so? I assure you, I'll distribute them where they can help. Many thanks.