Statement - School Board on the Proposed FY99 Capital Improvement Plan - January 22, 1998
First, the Taxpayers Alliance takes heart in the new superintendent's promise to establish measurable achievement goals. We would propose as goals that SAT scores be increased from the 65th to the 80th percentile and that 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 11th grade standardized test scores be increased from the 75th to the 90th percentile.
The Alliance is concerned that despite higher taxes both the school system and the county are neglecting buildings and infrastructure.
In the past thirty years voters have approved 13 of 14 school bond referenda. Since 1975, while inflation increased 200%, county per-capita taxes increased 385% and per-student spending increased 480%. Schools have received $5 billion more than was required to keep up with enrollment and inflation. Yet there is a $400 million backlog in school renovations and construction. The proposed FY99 budget states (p. 190) that capital improvements will be underfunded by $20 million per year for the next ten years. Despite substantially higher taxes, we are facing a $600 million capital improvement backlog.
The backlog would have been more except that the county will increase the schools' share of the annual bond sales from $75 to $100 million. Therefore even less money will be available for the county's capital improvement backlog, which is probably several billion dollars. There is a $300 million backlog in stormwater drainage projects. Northern Virginia reportedly has a $10 billion backlog in transportation projects. Finishing the Fairfax Parkway requires $50 million. Replacing the Woodrow Wilson bridge requires $1 billion. It is interesting that the county pays for roof and air conditioner replacement out of the operating budget while schools pay for it out of scarce bond dollars.
Both the schools and the county have neglected buildings to pay for more staff. Since 1975, school staff has increased 400% faster than enrollment. There are 5000 extra full-time staff members costing $260 million per year. Incidentally, of the 5000, only 400 are ESL teachers. Another 440 positions are for the seven-period day. One way to save $25 million per year and to increase the time students have to prepare for the new state tests is to end the seven-period day. More assistant principals, clerical help, guidance counselors, and information technology staff have failed to increase achievement, and student behavior is worse. Schools have implemented and expanded programs without evaluating them. Schools have refused to even try phonics-based reading instruction as an approach to reduce the demand for special education services.
If the school board would drop ineffective programs and implement effective ones, schools could eliminate the capital project backlog, stay within the county budget guidelines, and free up scarce bond dollars for urgently needed transportation projects.