Fairfax school board to vote on budget changes for 2015

The Fairfax County School Board on Thursday will vote to approve the 2015 budget, bringing to a close a months-long process to address a projected multimillion-dollar shortfall.

Early this school year, new Superintendent Karen Garza made efforts to highlight what she described as a budget “crisis” facing the school system. In light of the dire fiscal outlook, Garza proposed a series of cuts including eliminating 720 staff positions and having bigger class sizes.

On Thursday evening, the school board will vote on a revised version of the $2.5 billion advertised budget that was approved in February.

While the school board voted to approve the advertised budget that included $4 million in testing fees for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes, the newly revised budget does not call for the new fees.

That’s because the revised document includes suggestions that Garza offered the school board in April. Garza’s changes to the budget reflect a smaller amount of local funding than she desired from the county board of supervisors.

Budget chair Ted Velkoff (At Large) said that the school board has long used the same process when it comes to approving the budget. Velkoff acknowledged that the practice has its detractors.

“For years and years, we have had a custom that the superintendent brings forward a recommendation that forms the main motion for budget approval,” Velkoff said. “In the past few years, some have objected to the superintendent’s recommendations receiving a ‘presumption of inclusion.’ ”

The current budget approval process essentially allows the board to “approve” a new version of the budget without officially voting.

“There is a principle at stake — that all actions of the board must be approved by a majority,” Velkoff said. “I would like the board to address the governance process in time for next year’s budget so that there need be no reliance on custom, nor resort to parliamentary maneuver.”

The school board will vote on several amendments offered by board members. The amendments represent school board members’ last chance to provide funding for certain programs, find reductions to save money or increase the amount of raises for school system employees.

By Wednesday evening, there were 10 amendments to the 2015 budget. Seven of them were written by two board members: Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) and Megan McLaughlin (Braddock).

Most of Schultz’s and McLaughlin’s amendments shift money already in the budget into new programs, including early childhood education.

One proposal — jointly offered by Schultz and McLaughlin — calls on reinstating the AP/IB fees and using the $4 million to give school employees bigger raises. Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax Education Association, the largest teachers organization in the county, said she supported that amendment.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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