The Fairfax County school board Thursday unanimously approved the creation of two new auditing positions within the school system, as the administration seeks to address a projected nine-figure deficit next year.
The vote completed a year-long process for the school board to create better controls for the administration’s $2.5 billion budget. As chairman of the audit committee, school board member Dan Storck (Mount Vernon) helped lead the push for the two positions, one senior and one junior.
But the exact function and scope of the senior-level position — described by some school board members as an inspector general and others as an independent auditor — is not clear.
“The time has come — we desperately need this,” said school board member Patty Reed (Providence), vice chairman of the budget committee.
All board members agreed, however, that the goal is to help the administration become more efficient and effective . The senior-level official will report directly to the school board. Beyond that, there is no consensus. The school board likely will vote in February to narrow the focus of the senior position. The schools already have an internal auditing office, but board members argued that’s not enough and that a position with independent authority should exist.
The schools face a projected $132 million deficit next year. The county supervisors, who have funding authority over the schools, have repeatedly urged the school board to hire an independent auditor to help ensure that taxpayer dollars are being well-spent on the schools.
School board member Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) suggested that if the board had acted earlier, then perhaps the administration would not be facing such a shortfall, which she described as a “gaping hole,” in next year’s budget.
“There are significant efficiencies to be gained,” Schultz said. “If we ever needed efficiencies, by heavens, we need them now.”
During a discussion on the vote Thursday, school board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) noted that the new superintendent, Karen Garza, had worked with an inspector general during her tenure at the Houston Independent School District. McLaughlin said that many of the largest school districts in the country have such a position. (Fairfax, with 184,600 students, is the 11th largest in the country.)
“We know that our revenues are right, and our student enrollment is growing,” said Janie Strauss (Dranesville). “So we know we must be the most effective and efficient in everything that we do.”
Storck said the school board should aim to fill the senior-level position as soon as possible, ideally before the end of February.
Also on Thursday, the school board unanimously approved an initiative to de-emphasize student results on the Virginia Standards of Learning tests. School board member Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill) said that in recent years students have been bombarded in the classroom with tests. Hynes said the initiative would prod the school board by September to find a better way to assess student achievement, instead of relying too heavily on the SOLs.
“It’s drawn away from the joy of learning,” McLaughlin said. “The drill and kill thing I think has really taken a toll on the quality FCPS is known for during the last decade.”
School board member Ted Velkoff (At Large) said that across the country educational leaders became complacent with such tests.
“For too long, I think we were all boiled frogs,” Velkoff said. Now “we’re a bunch of frogs jumping out of the pot.”