2004-02-02 Hoping that a new superintendent will bring a new era of candor and honesty

Testimony before the Fairfax County School Board regarding the FY2005 School Budget

February 2, 2004
By Arthur G. Purves
President, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance

Members of the Board and Dr. Domenech:

The proposed FY2005 school budget is only four percent larger than the estimated budget for the current year (FY2004). However, the current-year budget is 15 percent larger than last year’s budget (FY2003). Therefore if you and the Supervisors approve the proposed FY2005 budget, the school budget will have increased nearly 20 percent in two years.

You do this every year. For example last year’s proposed FY2004 budget was only two percent larger than the FY2003 budget. However the FY2003 budget was 12 percent larger than the FY2002 budget.

Current-year estimates are too high because you repeatedly underestimate the ending balance. The result is that proposed budget increases seem smaller than they really are.

The explanation that large spending increases are due to the extra staff required for growing special-needs populations does not hold up. Since last year staff is increasing slower than enrollment (1.6 percent compared to 2.1 percent).

Enrollment projections have been nearly 100 percent too high over the last four years. For example, last year you predicted that enrollment would grow by 3000 students when it actually increased by 1000 students. Two years ago you predicted an increase of 5000 students, while the actual increase was only 2000 students. Predicting small enrollment increases is difficult. However, I do not recall your telling the Supervisors that you could decrease spending since new enrollment was half of what you had expected.

Spending increases appear to be primarily the result of large salary increases. Data provided by you suggest that over the past 16 years, teachers have been receiving average annual raises of nearly seven percent. I believe that at least recently the average private-sector raise has been about four percent. Teachers unions ignore their generous salary increases and instead compare salaries of neighboring districts, thereby creating a bidding war. So while taxpayers are getting average salary increases of four percent, teachers in Fairfax, Montgomery, Loudoun counties are getting increases of seven percent. If salaries are too low, why you did you have 13,000 applications for 1600 job openings last year?

You have also misled the public on your test scores. You publicize increases in SAT scores while not publicizing that over the past six years the percentage of seniors taking the SAT has decreased from 89 percent to 77 percent. You claim that over ninety percent of second graders read at grade level but do not disclose that the test you use is not nationally normed, does not test phonics skills, and allows students to miss one word in ten. We would like to know how many 12th graders read at grade level.

We appreciate that this is a new school board and that there will be a new superintendent. We hope that this will usher in a new era of candor and honesty with the taxpayers.

Thank you.

Updated October 3, 2004

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