Tax Example Overlooks

Higher Assessments

Recent articles on the increases in Fairfax real estate taxes seriously understate the effect on most household budgets. In a discussion of the increase on a house valued at $317,000, it was stated that the Board of Supervisors' rate cutting from $1.21 for each $100 of assessed value to $1.16 would result in the household paying about $160 a year less.

The discussion omits the effect of the assessment increase. Given the average increase of 25 percent, that $317,000 house would have paid taxes last year on about $253,000 in valuation. So even with the rate cut to $1.16, that household's annual property tax will go from $3,060 to $3,677, an increase of $617.

Pat Finn

Fairfax

Report Card Omits

Facts of Concern

The Minority Student Achievement Oversight Committee recently presented its annual report card to the Fairfax County School Board. The report is intended to bring achievement concerns to the attention of our community.

Some of us on the committee believed that this year's report card omitted some important facts. We filed a minority report, documenting these points that the majority report omitted:

* Graduation -- The SOL high school English test must be passed by students in the Class of 2004 if they are to receive a diploma next year. That test was failed last spring in county schools by 8 percent of white students, 25 percent of Hispanic students and 27 percent of black students. Are those acceptable results?

* Dropouts -- For the Class of 2000, between the end of ninth grade and graduation, the county school system lost 11 percent of its white and Asian enrollment, 23 percent of its black enrollment and 42 percent of its Hispanic enrollment. Shouldn't our school system have a dropout prevention program?

* Reading -- County black and Hispanic students scored 30 percentiles below white students on the 2002 fourth-grade Stanford reading tests. Compare this to Houston schools, which narrowed the gap between white and Hispanic students from 30 percentiles to 13 by adding systematic phonics to their first-grade program.

Our own Crestwood Elementary in Springfield, with a 70 percent minority population, scored sixth-highest out of 134 elementary schools on 2001 second-grade reading tests after Crestwood added "systematic phonics" to K-2 instruction. [The cities of] Houston; Los Angeles; Sacramento; and Richmond, along with Crestwood, saw dramatic gains for students after adopting the reading reforms recommended by the National Institutes of Health.

Few schools in Fairfax use the type of "decodable textbooks" to teach reading that are endorsed by NIH research. We suggested that Fairfax should pilot these proven NIH reforms at more than a handful of schools.

Our minority report was based on the school system's own data, extracted from reports filed with federal and state agencies, but rarely noted by school system officials.

Should the above issues be considered by the School Board? We thought so. But frankly, when we presented our report to the School Board, we received a negative reaction from school system administrators for bringing those facts to light.

The majority report focused on programs "invented in Fairfax" and how much better they could be with more funding. It is not lost on us that a high percentage of those on the "oversight" committee are administrators from our school system.

We hope that the School Board will address the facts that we have documented. We also believe that the children would be better served if more of the oversight committee members were appointed by the School Board and community groups instead of by the school administration.

Minority student achievement in Fairfax County deserves independent, objective oversight.

Lorraine Robinson

Herndon

Judy Johnson

Alexandria

James Jones Jr.

Burke