2011-01-27 Higher pension costs real reason for school cuts

Testimony to the Fairfax County School Board Regarding the Proposed FY2011 School Budget

27 January 2012
By Arthur G. Purves
President, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance

Dr. Dale and Members of the Board:

The best-kept secret of the current budget crisis is the spending that preceded it.  Between 2000 and 2007, the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) inflation-adjusted operating budget increased five times faster than enrollment (30% vs. 6%).   Since 1975, the inflation-adjusted budget has increased eight times faster than enrollment (197% vs. 24%).

Have the resulting higher taxes produced academic excellence?

State accreditation is not a good indicator because passing the SOL tests requires only “D” level achievement.

FCPS boasts that 93 percent of its graduates attend college.  However, how many will graduate from college?  When we asked the superintendent, his answer was, “I do not know.”  The DC Public Schools chancellor knows. In 2006, D.C. Public Schools published a study concluding that only one out of nine DCPS ninth graders would graduate from college.  If DC can answer the question, why can’t we?

According to the 2009 ACT college admissions test, only 39 percent of the 3000 FCPS seniors tested were prepared for college.

What about last year’s ten-point increase in SAT scores?  We asked the College Board how much higher SAT scores increase the probability of college success. Their answer was, “We cannot predict how well a student will do based on the SAT scores ….”

Rather than funding academic excellence, higher taxes are giving school employees better salaries and benefits than received by taxpayers.  According to the county website, between 2001 and 2009 private-sector raises in Fairfax County outpaced inflation by 7.3 percent.  Over the same period, county raises outpaced inflation by 22 percent.

The Superintendent’s budget press release announced cuts totaling $100 million.  It did not mention that spending for employee benefits is increasing by $100 million.  In comparison, accommodating next year’s increase in student enrollment costs only $9 million. 

Low revenues are not the reason for bigger classes and cuts in sports and band.  Indeed, next year’s proposed budget is $50 million more than this year’s approved budget ($2,256M vs. $2,203M).   The reason for the cuts is to pay for the high cost of the schools’ generous pension and health benefits.  Teachers are not well served when excessive raises and benefits result in layoffs.  We recommend that you present to the teachers’ union President Obama’s suggestion of accepting lower salaries and benefits in return for fewer layoffs.

 Thank you.