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.
As recently shared re: Trump’s skinny budget: Where we put our money speaks to our values. FCCPS’ budget does not reflect value for our more vulnerable students. At a time when our state chiefs are reconfirming their commitment to equity, our little city continues to put money behind a laptop for every kid and our highest performing kids.
The interim Superintendent responded to my email and he is encouraging the board to do an assessment of the programs. I find that encouraging and I am certainly appreciative of his leadership. I did respond with the suggestion that the board consider a budget task force similar to Arlington County’s Budget Advisory Council. I think there certainly are a number of citizens who would and could step forward to help take a deep dive into the budget and program costs. I think the school board just has an incredible amount of work on their plate and it would be a way to spread some of the effort around. The meeting ran long last night and there is no end in sight for them considering the work they face. I hope they seriously consider the idea.
I am disgusted by these figures and thankful I made the decision to pull my children and put them in private. Which was a serious eye opening experience by the shocking upward shift in the quality of curriculum. For an “elite” school system – it seems that outside of those classes outlined in the article for the IB Bourgeoisie- the rest is sub-par. Probably fairing behind our neighboring public
public districts. For the tax rate we dish out, this is criminal. The whole system needs an overhaul. Getting rid of Jones was a small start. The rest of the dead weight needs to go. Dr. Schiller – please find the gross mismanagement, incompetence and negligence by the district officials before you go. You would be an even bigger town hero than you already are.
I was happy to hear the School Board approved a Special Education audit but this article brings me to a conclusion that an entire FCCPS audit is necessary. Each year there is a budget crunch and I do not see 1) a committee looking into ways to find savings and efficiencies and 2) external audit analysis to determine if we are using our money in the best manner.
Additionally, I see people ask for audits and request for transparent budget discussions and analysis but it is never done. Why is that? The interim superintendent agreed that a school audit is beneficial yet the School Board continues to rubber stamp budgets without in depth analysis. Too bad the interim superintendent isn’t staying around – he seems to have some good ideas on how to make this school system better.
Improvement will be slow to come if the School Board insists on doing business as usual by rubber stamping budgets without analyzing the budget for efficiency.
I thought the new people on the Board would have some impact, but it’s status quo for yet another year. Sad news for the schools, for the students and for the taxpayers.
Under the leadership of interim Superintendent Robert Schiller, my questions were no longer ignored and deflected. During a meeting with GMHS Principal Matt Hills, Dr. Schiller and a parent of an IB student had a very thoughtful discussion about teacher resource allocation. Matt Hills made a presentation to the school board on May 2nd concerning his findings about IB class enrollment. The link to the meeting is here and the presentation begins at 7:02
This kind of transparency is certainly encouraging!