Fairfax school leaders attend ‘off the record’ meeting

Two Fairfax County school board members participated in what was described as an “off the record” community meeting Saturday morning at Luther Jackson Middle School to discuss the budget for the next school year.

The purpose of the meeting, attended by about a dozen parents, education advocates and teachers, was to talk about ways to lobby county supervisors for more education funding.

School board members Dan Storck (Mount Vernon) and Ted Velkoff (At Large), who is budget committee chairman, helped organize and lead the community budget meeting.

Under Virginia law, meetings attended by three school board members or more must be open to the public.

With only two board members present, a reporter was allowed to observe the meeting on the condition that participants not be quoted.

Saturday's event was posted to an online school board meetings calendar. An earlier budget discussion with members of the community and school board members two weeks ago was not announced.

“My understanding was that these were not public meetings and only two of us should attend,” said Velkoff, noting Saturday’s discussion involved talking about how school board members could “assist the community in advocating for us.”

Storck, who said he had attended three similar gatherings, said that the participants were people “who are frustrated and don’t want to see things turn out this year the way they have in the past.”

In recent years, relations have become tense between the supervisors and school board during budget discussions. The school board members contend that without additional funding, the quality of the education in Fairfax will deteriorate. Supervisors counter that the schools have failed to live within their means as the county recovers from the economic downturn.

This month, the school board voted unanimously to approve a $2.5 billion budget drafted by Superintendent Karen Garza. Her proposal calls for $97 million in cuts, including eliminating 731 staff positions through attrition and possibly layoffs. She also calls for $41 million in salary increases for teachers, whose average pay lags what their peers earn in neighboring school systems. Garza’s proposal requests a 5.7 percent increase in county funding. Overall, counting other funding sources, her proposed spending plan is 2 percent larger than the budget for this school year.

On Tuesday, Fairfax County Executive Edward L. Long Jr. will present the county's proposed budget. Last year, he advised the schools to expect a 2 percent increase in funding.

Storck said that Saturday’s meeting was an opportunity for those seeking to “change the funding outcomes” to gather and game out ideas.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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