As the Fairfax County school system prepares to cut between $50 million and $100 million from its budget, it’s putting parents and residents in the shoes of those making those tough choices with a virtual budget app that allows them to suggest savings.
Fairfax County has unveiled its Budget Proposal Tool — at https://budgettool.fcps.edu — which allows parents and community members to sift through a menu of ways to cut the budget, including axing athletics, increasing class sizes and eliminating custodians. Then users can pick how they would cut $50 million from the school budget.
“I think it’s instructive for our community to go through the exercise,” School Superintendent Karen Garza said. “It does give you some insight into how difficult this level of cuts is to make.”
Last month, a citizen task force appointed to propose ways to reduce the school budget released its suggestions, which included cutting all school athletics and student activities such as band and the yearbook, big ticket items that would bring $23 million in savings. Talk of cutting school sports immediately stirred anger and incredulity in the community.
The budget app will help the task force gain insight into what community members want. Would they, for example, be comfortable with increasing class size? What about cutting teacher hours and counselors?
“The purpose is to get residents of the county’s input on how they would prioritize any necessary budget cuts,” said Matt Haley, chairman of the budget task force and father of two schoolchildren.
Garza said the app will give community members a better idea of just how much will have to be carved out for the school system to balance its budget. It can be difficult for members of the public to conceptualize what $50 million pays for in the vast school system, which educates about 187,000 students and employs about 25,000 teachers, with an overall budget of about $2.6 billion.
“Part of it is education,” Haley said. “Part of it is helping people get a sense the magnitude.”
Haley said well-meaning community members sometimes overestimate how much money will be saved with certain cuts. But the budget tool allows people to see exactly how much money each cut is worth.
Dumping varsity sports? That saves $5.5 million. Cut full-day kindergarten to half-day classes? That saves $39 million. But charging for the PSAT? That helps with just $100,000.
The budget is not slated to be voted on until next May, but in the coming months, the task force will release its recommendations. Garza is scheduled to release her budget proposal in January.