“This is one of the most difficult challenges we have ever faced in Fairfax County public schools,” Garza said. “We find ourselves in a place where we will have to make cuts and it will affect schools, it will affect student programming, unfortunately, and it will affect just the operation of our system as a whole. So it’s to the bone, I would say.”
The county’s $2.5 billion schools budget serves 184,500 students this year. Although Fairfax has long enjoyed a strong reputation for education, it now faces tough financial choices as the school system continues to grow with funding that has not kept pace.
During the past five years, the schools have seen a surge in student enrollment as the county continues to attract immigrants and families seeking a top public education. Enrollment has increased by 15,000 students since 2008, outpacing school funding from the county, schools administrators said. At the same time, populations of students taking classes for English as a second language and those who qualify for free and reduced-price meals — a measure of poverty — have climbed dramatically.
Garza’s proposals will begin what has become an annual showdown between the schools and the county Board of Supervisors, which allocates a majority of the school board’s funds. Garza and others in the school system said the cuts will be apparent and likely will diminish the quality of programs.
School board Chairman Ilryong Moon (At Large) said that such significant cuts threaten the school system’s foundation.
“We won’t be Fairfax anymore,” Moon said.
Among the proposals Garza will present to the board, she suggests increasing class sizes by an average of one student, for a savings of about $25 million and a reduction of about 400 staff positions; gutting a foreign language in elementary schools program, for a savings of about $5.5 million and a reduction of about 62.5 staff positions; and cutting 12 assistant principal positions, for a savings of about $1.3 million.
The possible increase in class size would be the third time in recent years the school system sought to reduce costs by altering student-teacher ratios.
“Increasing the class size ratio again, while it would save a significant amount of money, is very worrisome,” said school board member Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill). “Some elementary schools in Vienna already have class sizes over 30 in some grades.”