Garza: More staff cuts possible in Fairfax schools if full funding request isn’t met

Fairfax County Superintendent Karen Garza said this week that more than 930 school staff positions could be eliminated next year if the school board does not receive its full funding request from the county.

That estimate is an increase from the predicted staff reduction of more than 730 Garza included in her budget proposal, which calls for a 5.7 percent increase in county funding.

“We remain concerned about the fiscal challenges we face in 2015,” Garza said Thursday night at a school board meeting.

Garza presented an updated budget this week to the Board of Supervisors, who must sign off on funding for the 184,500-student school system.

Supervisors have long said that a 2 percent increase in county funding for schools was likely for 2015. The supervisors have not approved a funding request above 6 percent since 2007, and the schools received a 2 percent increase in funding from local tax dollars last year.

Garza’s budget also called for $96 million in cuts, partly to pay for $41 million in salary increases for teachers and staff. Her $2.5 billion budget included a reduction of 731 staff positions, increased class sizes across all grades and new fees for students.

But Garza told the supervisors this week that if the schools receive only 2 percent more, an additional 200 staff positions would be cut on top of the planned 731 employee reductions. Garza said that under her plan, an elementary school with 961 students, for example, would lose 4.6 teaching positions and 7.1 positions in total, including clerical and custodial staff.

It also would mean that teachers would not get raises.

“The key question is, do we think 5.7 is too much? Because, quite honestly, I don’t think it’s enough,” Garza told The Washington Post earlier this year. “If we don’t get a 5.7 percent increase, it would be a travesty. It would be a travesty.”

The school board and the county have faced similar financial challenges in the past. Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova (D) said it is important to remember the context of discussions about school funding.

“Fiscal year 2015 follows five very difficult years of a major recession and its aftermath,” Bulova said, noting that the county reduced services at other local agencies “often in an effort to shift funding to the schools — our highest, but not only, priority.”

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to approve a final budget April 29. The school board plans to adopt its budget May 22.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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