Track Record of School Bonds
Calls for Yes Vote on Tuesday
On Tuesday, Fairfax County voters are being asked to approve a $246 million bond sale for education facilities. We are confident that voters will overwhelmingly approve this investment, as they have every school bond referendum in the last 25 years.
However, in an era of rising skepticism toward government and vehement partisanship, we think it is useful to summarize once again the case for bipartisan citizen support to sustain this vital ongoing investment in our public school infrastructure. The school system's physical plant is integral to the quality education delivered to its 165,000 students, but these facilities also support 91,000 adult education classes, nearly 160,000 senior citizen meals in 35 schools and thousands of outside recreational activities sponsored by the county and serving more than 300,000 individuals.
Fairfax County Public Schools has 208 schools and 20 support facilities with about 24 million square feet of space. This is equal to about 13 percent of the total commercial space in Fairfax County. Most of our buildings were constructed during the growth period from the 1950s through the early 1990s; since then, the primary focus of our capital improvement program has shifted from new construction to renovation.
The school system aggressively conserves the value of its infrastructure investment through nationally recognized, state-of-the-art maintenance services. We need capital investment to build buildings, add modular classroom space to existing buildings and renovate older buildings that would otherwise fall behind modern standards. Requirements for science laboratories, wiring and computer networks, libraries and instructional space are constantly evolving and are integral to meeting current curriculum standards. The school system tries to maintain a 25-year renewal schedule for its facilities to maximize the return on taxpayer investment and to offer the world-class education that county residents demand.
The Board of Supervisors' policy is to finance capital investment in schools -- as well as in police and fire stations, libraries, and park buildings -- with county bonds. This practice spreads the tax burden for improvements over the facility's useful life. A bit of reflection reveals that this approach is a terrific value for taxpayers (assuming they are interested in continuing to invest in high-quality education for our children).
First, our county's economic health -- which depends in no small measure on our great schools and sound financial management -- results in a AAA bond rating. We pay the lowest possible interest rate, currently around 4.5 percent. Second, taxpayers 10 or 15 years from now will be paying capital costs for school facilities we build today with, in effect, a "mortgage payment" calculated at 4.5 percent in 2005 dollars. Finally, almost all of our facilities have their useful lives extended well beyond the terms of the bonds financing them. This "residual value" is an additional benefit to taxpayers.
Today's taxpayers are benefiting from the bond financing residents approved for new schools such as Colin Powell Elementary School in Centreville and the renovation at J.E.B. Stuart High School, completed in 2004 and bonded seven years earlier -- just as future taxpayers will benefit from a favorable vote on the bond referendum Nov. 8.
While $246 million is a large amount of money, it is a relatively modest figure in relation to the total value of the school system infrastructure. What's more, this figure is the result of a challenging and painful prioritization, by the Fairfax County School Board, of total documented facilities needs totaling more than $1.5 billion. The rigorous discipline the Board of Supervisors imposes and the School Board applies to facilities investment means that many children attend schools with less than ideal instructional environments.
Understandably, the majority of the criticism we hear from parents is that the bond request is too small, not too large. However, we are making slow but steady progress in reducing the facilities investment backlog. Both the Board of Supervisors and the School Board are committed to seeking new ways to fund such investment, such as public-private partnerships -- as successfully illustrated by the new South County Secondary School -- and working aggressively to encourage developers to bear a larger proportion of the burden they impose on schools. We are gratified at the strength of community support for Fairfax County Public Schools, as attested to by the track record of 70-plus percent approval majorities -- through Republican- and Democratic-led county governments -- over the past 25 years. We believe that this well-deserved bipartisan support will once again prevail at the voting booth.
Chairman, Fairfax County Citizens
for School Bonds
Vice chairman, Fairfax County
Protecting Streams Hardly
A New Effort for the County
In "From Lost Trees, Foes of Growth Take Root," [front page, Oct. 14], Fairfax citizens voiced complaints about downed trees and imperiled streams. Readers of the article would assume that Fairfax streams are in immediate danger and that citizens had finally organized to do something about it.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Since 1998, Fairfax has made slow and steady progress toward creating a comprehensive stream protection and restoration program. That year, the county funded a baseline stream assessment, which summarized in a visually appealing, meaty 2001 publication what was known about the health of all county waterways. Since then the county has mapped every perennial, or year-round flowing, stream in the county, created a protocol for determining perenniality that has won national praise and moved forward with citizen-based watershed restoration and protection plans for all 30 streams in Fairfax County.
The county also revised its public facilities manual to increase stream protection during construction and added protective measures to storm-water management after construction (including the low-impact development strategies, aimed at reducing runoff).
County staff and local activists have formed a Fairfax Watershed Network, which in the spring organized a cleanup day at 83 stream sites. One thousand citizens showed up. For this effort, the largest organized cleanup of the Potomac watershed, county officials and citizens received recognition from the Alice Ferguson Foundation.
This is hardly a record of indifference.
Are the county's programs perfect? No. Is there room for improvement? Always. So while I will agree there is future work to be done, it is a mistake not to recognize past efforts. It is always good to have new people interested in these issues, but for many of us, including those in county government, restoration and protection of Fairfax streams has been ongoing for years now.
Virginia Conservation Associate,
Audubon Naturalist Society
Chair, Fairfax County
Environmental Quality Advisory Council
Member, Difficult Run Watershed
Planning Steering Committee
In Suicides vs. Homicides,
No Surprises but Much Ado
There were two things puzzling about the new Virginia study on violent death in Virginia [Suicides Outnumber Homicides," Fairfax Extra, Oct. 20].
The first is that those who conducted it expect some sort of "ripples" from a study showing that suicides outnumber homicides in Virginia. That suicides outnumber homicides in Virginia, the United States and indeed most of the Protestant world has been known not just for years or decades, but for generations. The only thing newsworthy is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention felt compelled to spend $1.2 million in tax dollars to confirm century-old data.
The second is that the study defined "violent death" as one resulting from "the intentional use of force" and then proceeded to jack up the total by 7 percent by including deaths where it was "undetermined" whether the use of force was intentional and firearm-related deaths where it was determined that the use of force was unintentional.
I'm having trouble with the concept of unintentional intentional use of force (or is it intentional unintentional use of force?). The study probably would have been better had it picked a definition and stuck with it.
Patrick G. Halperin