Fairfax County Schools
With Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech
Thursday, Jan. 17 2002
Daniel A. Domenech is the superintendent of Fairfax County Schools, one of the area's largest school districts. Last week, the district marked the reopening of Dogwood Elementary School, which burned in a fire last year. (Read the story.)
Domenech also is involved in working out the details of the county's school budget for the coming year. Under the proposed budget, spending would increase 9.2 percent and employee pay would increase 2 percent. (Budget highlights.)
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washingtonpost.com: Thanks for joining us, Dr. Domenech. Dogwood Elementary recently reopened. How are the students and staff readjusting?
Daniel A. Domenech: Thanks for having me back on line. Dogwood is open and everyone is thrilled. The students and staff are delighted with their beautiful new building. It has been a very difficult year but we are extremely grateful to the entire community for their support of this wonderful school. A dedication ceremony is planned for January 28.
washingtonpost.com: In November, Jay Mathews wrote that middle-tier students from competitive high schools, such as Thomas Jefferson, may be at a disadvantage when applying to colleges compared to top-tier students at regular high schools. (Read the column.) What are your thoughts on this?
Daniel A. Domenech: We have been aware that occasionally students at Jefferson may have a more difficult time getting into the college of their choice because so many other Jefferson students may be applying as well. This knowledge, however, does not seem to dampen the enthusiasm of students looking to get into Jefferson. It is an excellent school and students still opt for Jefferson admission, even if they do have a better chance of getting into the college of their choice from their neighborhood high school.
Washington, DC: First Lady Laura Bush said last week that 40% of all librarians will retire in the next decade. Do you see a similar demand for school library media specialists growing in Fairfax County Public Schools?
I used to teach high school English and I am considering going back to school for a degree in library science, but I never see posted vacancies in DC area school districts for library media specialists, especially at the secondary level. I'm afraid to invest lots of time and money on a degree in a field with low demand. What do you think?
Daniel A. Domenech: We are currently not seeing a critical shortage in the library/media field. As we open more schools and as some of our librarians retire, that might change.
Washington, D.C.: My wife has been an elementary school teacher in Fairfax County for 2 years now. She gets sparkling reviews from her principal, and the kids and parents love her. Yet she cannot continue to teach next year because she completed her education degree in Canada, where the education program requires more education courses and fewer liberal arts courses than in Virginia. In a time when Virginia schools have trouble recruiting good teachers, does this make any sense? Shouldn't teachers who have demonstrated their competence in classroom be allowed to stay on board?
Frustrated in Fairfax
Daniel A. Domenech: We are bound by State certification standards to hire and retain certified teachers. Some exceptions have been made by the State for teachers in critical needs areas. Elementary teachers are not in the critical need category at this point.
I would suggest that your wife contact our HR department, if she has not done so already, for help and guidance.
Mantua: I have a daughter starting kindergarten at Mantua in the fall. Are there any parent meetings scheduled which will give us an idea of what to expect?
Daniel A. Domenech: Parent meetings will be scheduled. In the meantime, you could check the school's web site (www.fcps.edu)or call the principal at 703-645-6300.
Arlington, VA: Which schools in Fairfax have the IB program? My fiance and I are relocating to Fairfax and schools will factor in that decision. We were thinking Burke but was told that school does not have the IB Program (Lake Braddock that is). If not, why does it not offer this program?
Daniel A. Domenech: Sounds like you're really planning ahead. Annandale, Edison, Lee, Marshall, Mount Vernon, South Lakes, Stuart and Robinson offer the IB program. You can pupil place a child into an IB school if your neighborhood school does not offer it. Good luck!
DC: So have you figured yet how to get your state out of the bottom 10 for state funding of education?
Daniel A. Domenech: It certainly does not look like it's going to happen this year, what with Virginia facing a $1.5 billion deficit. Last year the much-awaited JLARC report affirmed the fact that Virginia underfunds public education. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the General Assembly will be able to address the necessary changes in state funding for education. In the meantime, we would hope that, if the state can't help us, they will at least allow localities to help themselves by letting us have a referendum to increase the sales tax.
Fairfax Station, VA: With the state of the budget, is the construction of the very much-needed high school in the south county area in jeopardy?
Daniel A. Domenech: All of our construction and renovation needs are in jeopardy. We have $1.7 billion in needs being funneled through an annual $130 million cash flow limit. We need the infusion of a new source of revenue, such as the sales tax, which would potentially yield as much as $75 million new dollars per year.
Fairfax, Va.: Is school overcrowding caused by our never-ending population growth, or by difficulty in securing funds for new schools? Or both? Just wondering, because it seems like as soon as new schools are finished being built, we discover enrollment projections indicate we need yet more.
Daniel A. Domenech: It's a combination of both, growth and the inability to finance the building of new schools and adding to existing facilities. Our problems are not going away. We are projected to continue our growth at least through 2008, when we will reach 176,000 students.
Centreville: What are the three challenges that will be most difficult to overcome?
Daniel A. Domenech: The biggest challenge we continue to face is the lack of adequate funding for our schools. It affects our operating budget in three critical areas. First, we cannot keep up with the growth in our student population. Each year we have to pay for our new students with existing dollars, thereby affecting programs and services. Second, we cannot offer our employees competitive salary increases that will help us to attract the best and retain our very competent staff. Third, our students are faced with new graduation requirements that may prohibit as many as 1200 students from getting a high school diploma in 2004 if we do not act now to help them. The additional effort costs money that we currently do not have.
Fairfax, Va. (following up): I'm astonished by the enrollment projections you cited! Lately I've been worrying that this area's population growth is at the root of a number of ills--overcrowded schools, traffic congestion, housing shortages, etc. Might local officials begin to put some pressure on the federal government to help stem our country's population growth before it gets much worse?
Daniel A. Domenech: I'm not sure what the federal government might do other than to put up a fence around the county. Our county is prosperous and offers an excellent life style. Many families move here because of our fine schools. That's good for business and for the economic growth of our county.
Tyson's Corner, Va.: With the shortage in funding you talk about in challenges for Fairfax Co. Schools will this effect the number of teachers?
I was born and went to Fairfax Co. schools growing up and have wanted to get into the teaching profession for some time. What would you advise would be my first step to get into teaching in Fairfax Co.?
Daniel A. Domenech: We have been hiring as many as 2000 new teachers a year for the past three years. We love to hire our home grown products. First step is to contact a college that offers a teacher preparation program so that they may advise you as to the courses and number of credits you will need for teacher certification. When you are ready, send me your resume!
Springfield: What discretionary funds are included in each elementary school's budget? What are those funds intended to be used for?
Daniel A. Domenech: Elementary schools have little, if any, discretionary funds. Principals usually rely on the efforts of the PTA to come up with funds for such things as playground equipment, or other items that school was not able to secure through the regular budget process. Many schools also have business partners that are very generous. We are fortunate to have such supportive parents and business partners.
Falls Church, VA: Will you look into making Fairfax County a year-round school system? It was a fantastic experience! My son went through Timber Lane and then as he climbs the pyramid, it has stopped.
Daniel A. Domenech: Although we are far from being a year round school system, we have seen an increase in the number of our schools offering the modified calendar. Currently, five elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools are on the modified calendar and two more elementary schools have applied for next year. The calendar is catching on in popularity and the extra instruction offered during the intercessions is paying huge dividends in higher achievement!
McLean, VA: Has Fairfax explored corporate sponsorships as an alternative-funding source? The TJ Foundation seems to generate a nice revenue stream -- why can't this model be more widely used? School naming rights come to mind -- AOL Time Warner Elementary... Washington Post.com High...
Daniel A. Domenech: We currently have a committee that is charged with exploring alternative funding sources, including naming rights to labs and other spaces within the schools. In addition to the TJ Foundation, the Fairfax Education Foundation has been very active in producing a stream of revenue that has been very helpful. Most recently, the Foundation has sponsored the K-Nects project in the Woodson pyramid, bringing some $10 million in technology to those schools.
washingtonpost.com: That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the
discussion. We would like to thank Fairfax County Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech for joining us. Our last question deals with year-round schooling. Mr. Domenech, would you ever look into making Fairfax County a year-round school system?
Daniel A. Domenech: Before we can become a year round school system, the Commonwealth of Virginia will need to repeal the Kings Dominion law that currently prevents schools from starting prior to Labor Day. Our schools currently on a modified calendar do so with individual permission, obtained annually, from the State Board of Education.
Thanks for having me. I look forward to our next session.
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