Focus groups and surveys of Fairfax parents, educators and civic leaders show that their top priorities for school spending include reducing class size, renovating aging schools and maintaining competitive salaries for school employees.
School safety, student discipline, athletic programs and replacement of buses were among the lowest spending priorities.
School officials, who released the results this week, said they conducted the surveys and focus groups to guide them in preparing the school system's budget for the next fiscal year.
Fairfax Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech said he took the information into consideration. Although he will not make his formal budget presentation until next month, he already has proposed spending an additional $60 million on employee salaries and benefits. He also is seeking $20 million in new funding to maintain smaller classes in the early primary grades, in middle and high school subjects in which students must take the Virginia Standards of Learning exams, and at county schools with large numbers of poor children.
In seeking comment from Fairfax's education community, school officials invited representatives from 54 organizations, including the county Council of PTAs and Chamber of Commerce, to participate in two focus groups. They also conducted a telephone survey of 2,879 parents, getting responses from only 367, and a written survey of 12 school employee organizations.
In addition to ranking spending priorities, participants in the surveys and focus groups were asked to identify the school system's strengths and weaknesses.
The parents and community leaders said the district's strengths include a strong academic program, high-quality teachers and community involvement. Among the weaknesses they cited were antiquated and inadequate facilities, underachievement of minority and poor students, school crowding and a lack of focus on "average" students.
The 12 employee groups all recommended an increase in funding to reduce class size, and all but one organization wanted an increase in funding for general academic programs at the elementary level. The programs receiving the least amount of support for increased funding were gifted and talented education, focus and magnet schools, programs for chronically disruptive students, athletics and special education.
Although the focus groups and surveys involved a relatively small sample of county residents, school officials said they found the practice helpful and would like to continue it in the future.