Alison Kutchma Requests Board Assess Funding Equity
Letter to School Board Reveals Spending Allocations
Class section sizes of IB program classes detailed
Editor’s remark: Falls Church resident Alison Kutchma, as part of her request to assess all programs across the school district, has requested that FCCPS fund a special education program audit. In one of two recent emails sent to the board, both of which included video clips from recent Special Education Advisory Committee meetings, Ms. Kutchma asked the board to take a closer look at resource allocation issues. One of those letters is reprinted below. At the March 21st school board meeting, the FCCPS voted to fund the audit.
Members of the School Board:
In light of the incredible budget and tax pressures we are under, I would like to hear the school board go into detail in particular with regard to programs offered at the high school with respect to class section offerings and sizes. Some members of the community, do not even know what the IB program is and as you know the cost of it has never been disclosed to the community.
The IB program was initiated in our community at a time when we had access to a great resource flow. Those days are gone. With the loss of the revenue stream from the Falls Church water system that we sold, I continue to maintain that we need to take a hard look and to assess resource allocation across all needs in our school district (not just the IB program). What can we afford and sustain over time as we grow? Is it fair to ask the community to bear the costs of programs the board neither discloses nor identifies in budget meetings? To add more strain, the board recently approved the implementation of the Middle Years Program, again with no disclosure of budget impact and cost to the community.
I have heard class size mentioned many times in the budget work sessions over the years, but only in terms of the pressure on the lower schools with nothing about the high school. The board faces budget short falls every year, pressures the community to pay more, while making choices to fund programs and specific line items (teacher survey for example.) However at the same time the board neither fully examines nor provides, what I believe is appropriate detail for the community with regard to funding high school programs including the IB program details I have acquired and shared with you in a listing near the end of this email.
I also mention it because I believe the board is not providing appropriate support for students with disabilities. What I mean by that is: (Some items already have been detailed to you under separate cover.)
FCCPS currently, and for the last several years, does not have a full time Director of Special Education.
Special education training is underfunded with regard to the need and is not even assessed and planned comprehensively, according to the Director.
While special education remains not adequately funded and our tiny ELL community also wait for staff.
There is no money for substitutes at our pre-school, which is performed as needed by our part-time Director of Special Education.
A special education class (ILMS) class was eliminated in the fall of 2014. Staff admitted to me that is was, among other factors, because of a low enrollment of (8-10 students) Other classes (IB and general education electives) remained (see list below) and do not seem to face these same threats of low enrollment class eliminations? Why were these classes maintained while a special education class eliminated? Does it concern you that could be interpreted as discrimination? As you know parents were asked to sign IEP addenda to keep the elimination of this class in compliance with the law.
Staff departures : We even lost one of our best special education teachers, in part, as has been reported by staff, due to lack of support for the needs of the students and staff in the building in which she worked. When that starts to happen, I believe have a serious problem.
I look to the audit to shine a light on the need to address and solve these system wide issues so I thank you for funding that.
While these conditions continue year after year, the board chooses to fund these resource allocation choices listed below:
- A full time IB coordinator at the high school.
- A van, purchased in advance of the need, with cash, to transport teachers during the future renovation of Mt. Daniel.
- A generator that I believe still sits unused at on the Mt. Daniel site.
- Full tuition support so some top performing students can go tuition free to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology; (How exactly do we justify this while we have unmet needs here and incredible tax pressures?)
- A full time Community Outreach/Business in Education Coordinator (So are you saying that position is more critical than a full time Director of Special Education?)
The following class sections, < 15 students enrolled, currently being offered at GMHS, escape not only thoughtful scrutiny but not even a board mention during budget deliberations: Each class listed below is essentially/roughly a .2. (One block = 100 minutes of instruction.)
IB French IV 14 students
IB French IV 12 students
IB Spanish V/IV 14 students
IB Spanish V/VI 11 students
IB Econ 13 students
IB Spanish IV 13 students
IB Visual Arts 10 students
IB Visual Arts 13 students
IB Chem Standard Level 13 students
IB Chem Higher Level (Part II) 6 students
IB Physics Higher Level (Part II) 12 students
IB French V/VI 14 students
IB French V/VI 12 students
IB English Standard Level 12, 11 students
Math Standard Level Part II, 14 students
IB Theater 15 students
TOK Theory of Knowledge 12 students
TOK Theory of Knowledge 9 students
Tech Drawing 10 students
Film 10 students
Architectural Drawing 12 students
Robotics 9 students
Film 13 students
Guitar 15 students
Drums 9 students
Creative writing 14 students
Again, I am not picking on these classes, nor is it my intention to pit these classes and the needs of the aforementioned students against special education students. I am just pointing out that these budget impact classes have never been discussed transparently with the community or even considered optional or otherwise, while our ELL students have been inadequately served, our special educators request more training, and our teachers buy their own classroom supplies.
Please take a minute to listen to the scarcity of resources for special education discussed in terms of fractions of a full time employee. 1FTE. Keep in mind that each class listed above is essentially/roughly a .2. (One block = 100 minutes of instruction.)
I want to point out the small class sections not to eliminate them, target them or to only discuss budget fairness but also to consider if there might be a more cost effective way for these students to access these classes. Is it fair to the tax tired community to bear this cost? For budget estimation purposes let’s say that each block costs roughly $20,000. Go back to the list above and do the math. That’s real money and yet there is no discussion and no disclosure of the cost. Can we afford this and build a new high school and expand Mt Daniel and maintain our independence?
I also believe a deep dive into the class section offerings is completely essential before one considers physical space — building the new high school. I think we could at least consider combining some classes into bigger sections taught auditorium style.
I appreciate Dr. Schiller’s willingness to discuss these issues, an openness that is so incredibly refreshing. I enjoyed meeting with him and I continue to be hopeful that he will use the time he has left with us to bring his considerable experience to bear on efforts to reorganize our staff duties and resources to better serve our all the students in our community.
Please consider all students, especially our neediest students, as you review budget appropriations. And yes it’s absolutely a choice that you have.