The FCCPS School Board convened this past Tuesday, January 10, to reorganize as it does every January. Lawrence Webb was voted in as Chair. All members present voted for Mr. Webb with the exception of John Lawrence, who abstained. He offered no explanation. Phil Reitinger was unanimously voted in as Vice Chair. They did not choose advisory committee liaisons as former-chair Justin Castillo suggested; it is the tradition that the Vice Chair weigh in on those choices and by waiting, the incoming vice-chair Phil Reitinger will be afforded the opportunity to do so.
They moved on to the budget work for the upcoming year. The principals of our schools were invited to present their requests and program leaders in facilities, special education and transportation did the same. Requests for increases in staff were made, as stated by the presenters, to be in line with school board policy cited in each request.
School Board member John Lawrence asked a question of the staff, “What part of your requests are mandated” in effect mandated by law. I would have liked someone to have explained to him and the board at that point that providing evidence based interventions to students with disabilities and having the staff appropriately trained to do that is mandated by law . Staff for that would be mandated. However a program such as one we have chosen, that is driving staffing requests and other expenses this year, are not. For example, the Middle Years Program which is new, requires that the students have access to more World Languages options. Therefore, this drives the request, for more staff in this regard, made by the Middle School Principal.
TJ Elementary School Principal Paul Swanson spoke of the 90 TJ students enrolled in the ESOL program who are served by two teachers. He added that two of these young students are from Syria. He acknowledged the tremendous work of these two teachers and Mr. Swanson made an appeal to consider moral imperatives when facing budget choices.
The budget discussion underscored an important question that the Board has failed to discuss each and every budget year: How do our values and program choices drive resource allocation and staff assignments? Consider this: Our elementary classrooms are swelling and 90 ELL students share two teachers. At the same time, we have a higher level chemistry class at the high school reportedly with less than 8 students in it. In this classroom of our highest performing students, we have a 1 teacher to less than 8 students. For our ELL students at TJ, one of the most vulnerable populations in our community, we have allocated 2 teachers to serve 90 students.
If the school board would request detailed program information we could better assess how our resources are being utilized to serve all of our students here in Falls Church. For example, could the higher level chemistry class be offered on line and possibly for college credit? Are there other classes at the high school that have low enrollments like this? How might we strategically leverage our resources to better serve students like the 90 English Learners at TJ?
It’s time that the school board approve and fund an independent education audit. If we don’t ask the questions and we do not demand the data, we will have little hope of improving our school system or managing our growing costs. If we can’t do an audit in time for this budget, let us at least require preliminary program costs and staff to student ratios in all classrooms. That would be budget transparency.
Alison, dear and tireless community activist, thankyou for your reporting. The topic of fiscal accountability by our school board is very relevant still, since we have yet to see it. The departure of Dr. Jones is a good segue into a next chapter, but old habits die hard. These special programs strike me as a exclusive, not to mention expensive! Let’s see the data to prove their worth!!!
I agree with the conclusion of this article 100%. The vast majority of the budget is spent on personnel and any and every budget conversation should include an analysis of how personnel are deployed.
What are our explicit, measurable goals for the students in our community? How and where are we deploying personnel and to what what extent have these decisions contributed to our goals? What kinds of trade offs are we making and do we need to make to cover the costs of the things we want and need?
I cannot, for the life of me, understand why our school board members are not asking these questions. Discussing parking fees, etc is an attempt to tweak around the edges and fails to address the real costs of educating our kids and the ROI of those costs.
I would certainly expect an incoming superintendent to ask these questions either during the interview process or day 1 on the job.
So FCCPS has released this chart on IB costs. It is a start but it does yet include the loaded rate (cost of benefits for which we pay) for the staff listed and it does not include any of the teaching staff associated with the program – required by the program. Also not on the list is the cost of teacher time over the last two years while they were required to re-write and align the curriculum. That labor cost, while paid for, is not free.
Listing the staff would enable us to assess the trade-offs we might be making and so budget decisions can be informed. Such as do we relieve overcrowding in the 5th grade or do we service 6-8 students with a second year higher level chemistry class. Could they not just enroll in a NCC chemistry class if they are ready for college work? Obviously not that simple or a straight forward trade but decisions would be informed.
Looks like this was put together to tell people that it doesn’t cost that much to have IB courses in the curriculum. Especially if you don’t include all the costs! No teacher costs are included and I don’t believe it is an online curriculum.
What I would like to see is a list of all the classes at George Mason: which are general education, IB and AP and how many students are in each class. The data should be analyzed to see if it would impact 1) the number of teachers we need, 2) the number of physical space we need, 3) if it is feasible to continue offering multiple programs.
The last Super told us many times that the school systems is a people business, that more than 80% of the costs to run the system are payroll related. But, we never hear any discussion about eliminating any positions – even admin staff. We never hear any discussion about eliminating one of the several “high achiever” programs concurrently offered (IB, Dual, AP…) to reduce the number or teachers and administrators needed in our system. What we do hear is the need for a new school for $ 110 Million. It seems like there is real disconnect about what people want and what they can realistically afford.
I would totally support an audit of the schools. There are so many benefits to having a reputable company look for cost savings and improvements.
It’s also a good idea to ask teachers and principals for their suggestions, without ramifications, where they would make changes.
Lastly, I would recommend that the school district look at reducing administrative positions. They tend to be high paying jobs that do not improve educational outcomes. I was surprised to see the top heavy administrative staff for this little city: their own attorney, business partner position, communications, IT, etc. It really makes sense to share some of these departments with the city to create efficiencies, reduce duplication and ultimately save money.
On January 17th the school board voted on the committee assignments. If you are interested you can find the document here.