Fairfax school board budget woes continue before vote

Fairfax County school board members held a work session Thursday night on next year’s budget that ultimately left more questions unanswered about the school system’s finances only a week before they must make a final decision.

The purpose of the meeting was for school board members to discuss potential amendments to the $2.5 billion proposed budget. The forum generally provides school board members time to propose alternatives for programs to cut to find savings and ways to fund new initiatives.

But the meeting, which lasted three and a half hours, lost momentum on multiple occasions while confusion reigned as board members debated basic budgetary approval procedures. In the end, some board members expressed frustration that the meeting had been a futile exercise.

“I think it’s painful for a vast portion of the board because there are very few who actually want to change the advertised budget,” said Megan McLaughlin (Braddock). “Why are we even here then?”

Vice chair Tammy Deranak Kaufax (Lee) said that some members of the board had wasted time by offering proposals to alter the budget with only days before they must vote to approve it.

“We have gotten off track,” Derenak Kaufax said. “What we’ve been doing here tonight has not been as strategic as we like.”

During one portion of the meeting, school board members discussed options for increasing revenue to address budgetary constraints after the schools received less than expected local funding from the board of supervisors.

Patty Reed (Providence) suggested that such revenue could from student testing fees for advanced placement and International Baccalaureate classes. The school board approved the testing fees in February in the advertised budget, which passed unanimously. Since then, superintendent Karen Garza has recommended removing the fees so that the school system would cover the costs instead of parents.

In Thursday’s meeting, several school board members said that they had changed their minds to side with Garza and no longer wanted to levy the proposed fees.

“I’m struggling,” with making a decision, said Dan Storck (Mount Vernon).

Garza said that the fees would likely lead to a dramatic drop in participation in the tests. The school system would not be able to require students to take the exams without also paying the costs for administering the tests, Garza said.

By the end of the night, it was not clear if the school board members will decide next Thursday to include the fees in their final budget.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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