Fairfax County parents and teachers took turns trudging to the podium earlier this week to ask an impassive Board of Supervisors to "please fund the school budget intact.'
During three long nights of budget hearings, more than half of the 200 speakers made the same request: more money for public schools.
The speakers were trying to break the board's habit of school budget-slashing -- one of the county's annual rites of spring.
Members of the Fairfax Education Association, which represents the majority of teachers in the county, were urged by their leaders to make a strong showing at the hearings, and that they did. The association pledged to help the school board plead its case for an uncut school budget when the board unanimously approved the budget proposal in February.
The package includes an 8.5 percent cost-of-living raise for teachers, and association leaders have said the teachers will end their work-to-the-rule job action if the raise gets past the county board.
"The most frequently requested workshops that we offer are Stress Managment and Career Alternatives," association president Gerry Gripper told the board. "Our members are saying 'Help us cope.'
"You've got a great opportunity . . . (to help by) passing this budget intact."
Other speakers contended the $33 million increase in school expenditures over the last year would do everything from bolstering property values and preventing a teachers' strike to ensuring a lower juvenile delinquency rate.
School officials launched a public-relations blitz earlier this year in an effort to convince citizens and elected county officials that the need to increase spending on schools -- and the higher property tax that would be need to pay for it -- are the fault of Gov. John N. Dalton, who they say failed to provide for expensive changes in public education required by the General Assembly.
Many parents told the county board increased taxes were the price citizens pay for quality education.
"You will hear arguments that . . . school enrollment is declining, therefore the budget must be reduced," cautioned one speaker. "Nothing could be further from the truth. When I look at the education people are getting for their tax dollars in Arlington and Montgomery counties, I believe I'm getting a bargain."