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.