Statement - Board of Supervisors on the FY98 Budget
Madam Chairman and Members of the Board:
Good evening. My name is Arthur Purves, and tonight I am addressing you as president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance.
Two major concerns with the County FY98 Budget are capital construction and the School Board's request for a county income tax. The Fairfax County school administration projects over the next ten years a $500 million shortfall in funds for school construction and renovation and has suggested that the county lower its bond rating in order to increase bond sales. Regarding taxes, in its 1997 Legislative Package, the Fairfax County School Board asks the Virginia General Assembly to grant independent taxing authority to school boards and to provide a new "menu of tax options" for schools, including a new piggy-back local income tax and increasing the sales tax. In a report issued last July, a school board task force suggested a $55 million tax increase through a new county income tax.
The Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance opposes a lower bond rating, opposes independent taxing authority for school boards, and the Alliance opposes any new taxes. In the current school operating budget, there is at least $100 million that could be reallocated from ineffective programs to capital and other expenses.
Schools have already had higher taxes and increased funding. Over the last twenty years, while inflation increased 200%, Fairfax County per-capita taxes increased 380% and per-student spending in Fairfax County Public Schools increased 465%. Between 1975 and 1990, while enrollment decreased by 8000 students, the staff increased by 3000 employees.
The school operating budget has increased much faster than inflation and enrollment. If the school operating budget had increased at the same rate as enrollment and inflation, this year's school budget would have been $515 million or nearly 50% less than it is.
When forced to acknowledge this $500 million increase, school officials suggest that the increase was needed for English as a Second Language (ESL) and Special Education. In fact, only 20% of the increase went to ESL and Special Education.
A much larger amount, 35%, is spent on salary increases. What's disappointing is that substantial salary increases did not produce higher achievement. Over this period, standardized test scores were flat. While there was a 40 point or 7% increase in SAT scores, the county's average SAT score is only at the 65th percentile. That SATs increased while standardized test scores did not indicates that the SAT increase may be due to more students taking SAT prep courses, not to higher classroom standards. Standardized test scores are at the 70th percentile. The County average on College Board achievement tests is at the 50th percentile. To attain the 80th percentile, SAT scores must increase another 100 points.
Since 1978, administrative and clerical staffing increased 600% faster than enrollment. The number of guidance counselors, psychologists, and social workers increased 1100% faster than enrollment. Despite this increase, student behavior is worse. If these personnel had increased at the same rate as enrollment, schools would save $75 million a year, more than enough to pay fund the $50 million per year shortfall for building renovation and construction. The county should ask the state to waive the mandate for Elementary School Guidance Counselors, who alone cost about $10 million per year. In middle and high school, guidance counselors should teach some classes.
Here are over $100 million in specific budget reductions in ineffective programs. Listed are the program name, the dollar savings in funding, and the percent cut in that program:
PROGRAM SAVINGS REDUCTION
School administration is often not effective. For example, the Office of Educational Planning Services produced the Fairfax Framework for Student Success., a five-year plan to rewrite the entire curriculum. However, page 5 of the Framework's final report states, "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 will not raise achievement.
The Office of Program Evaluation writes tests but does not use them to improve the program. For example, this office developed math tests for grades 1-8 but never set a threshold score that defined adequate performance.
The Department of Instructional Services continually churns the curriculum without improving it. The Integrated Language Arts Program did not raise reading scores. Recent newspaper articles and letters report on math instruction changes, such as Hawaiian math, in which students are supposed to teach other. Arithmetic drill has been de-emphasized in favor of hand calculators and proofs have been removed from geometry. There is no longer a requirement to teach algebra problems in regular high school physics. Grammar is supposed to be taught "in context". Teachers are supposed to practice cooperative education and heterogeneous grouping. We now have block scheduling, the seven-period day, teacher professionalization, school-based management, and far greater use of computers. Yet none of these changes have raised standardized test scores. The Department of Instructional Services is about to implement so-called "Career Academies" without having set any achievement or employability goals for these academies and without providing evidence that these academies will increase achievement and employability.
The Department of Information Technology admits it does not know how many computers it has and how many are outdated, and that it cannot adequately train for and maintain the computers already in the classroom. This Department has also recommended a new student information system that will cost $11 million but has not identified any savings that are to result from this system.
The guidance counselor program may well contribute to the schools' behavior problem by teaching children not to obey authority but to evaluate rules, laws, and morals, and then do what the child thinks is best.
Even with reading resource teachers, that supplement the regular classroom teachers who are already accredited to teach reading, Fairfax County's average standardized test score for reading is only at the 65th percentile. These supplementary reading teachers, who cost $10 million a year, would not be needed if schools used phonics-based reading instruction in the regular classroom. (Just for comparison, closing the seven local branch tax offices last year saved only $800 thousand.)
Introducing phonics-based reading in the regular classroom would also reduce the demand for Learning Disabled services. A 25% reduction, which is achievable, would save another $10 million.
A regular classroom using E. D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge curriculum would provide more enrichment than the Gifted/Talented pull-out program does.
There are two reasons why the 450% increase in per-student spending has not increased academic achievement. First, raising academic achievement is no longer the school administration's goal. This was best stated by Dr. Rosanne Winter, principal of Oakton High School. In Oakton's May, 1994, PTA newsletter, Dr. Winter wrote, "The institution known as 'school' is no longer the place where American youth become educated but rather the place where American youth become socialized. Education is just one facet of socialization."
"Socialization" is defined in the schools' May, 1996, Professional/Technical Studies Implementation Committee report. Appendix A lists the competencies to be emphasized in grades K-12 under Professional/Technical Studies. They are:
The other problem is lack of accountability. In February, 1995, the school board instructed the school administration to provide ". . . the results of evaluations of all current instructional programs and to determine whether these programs are effectively serving the purposes for which they were intended . . . " For two years now, the school administration has responded with so-called "Program Budgets" that identify over sixty programs but which do not evaluate them. The current school board does not require accountability.
The school board has ample funds to meet their needs. The Board of Supervisors should not increase school capital funding but should expect the school board to start evaluating program effectiveness and defray the capital budget shortfall from the school operating budget.