Robert R. ‘Bud’ Spillane, former Fairfax school superintendent, dies

I was sorry to read the sad news in the Washington Post that Robert R. ‘Bud’ Spillane, former Fairfax school superintendent, died July 18.  Spillane was an outstanding leader.  Karen Garza, the current superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, posted this tribute:

The FCPS family is very saddened to hear the news of Dr. Bud Spillane’s passing. Dr. Spillane was a distinguished educator who presided over the FCPS system for 12 years. During his tenure, Dr. Spillane instituted rigorous academic standards and enhanced FCPS’ national reputation for excellence. He was recognized for his efforts when he was named National Superintendent of the Year in 1995. The FCPS Leadership Award was created to pay tribute to Dr. Spillane. Honorees have been FCPS employees who “keep the main thing the main thing” – Dr. Spillane’s guiding principle – by making a significant contribution to student achievement. Dr. Spillane had a tremendous impact on FCPS and his legacy will endure. He will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dr. Spillane’s friends and family.

I supported his efforts to end the Monday early dismissal policy in Fairfax elementary schools. Although  this reform was not implemented during his tenure, FCPS finally switched to full day Mondays for all the elementary schools in the 2014-15 school year.


Students, not school board salaries, should be the focus in the election

Apparently former school board member Stuart Gibson hopes voters will rely on his odd litmus test for deciding which candidates to support in the November election for the Fairfax County School Board. Although he admits that school board members “should be paid more than $20,000,” he scolds the members who voted for a raise and invents a convoluted method that he would deem appropriate for voting for a raise in salary. Without listing each of his steps, I’ll sum up by saying he would probably support such a vote when the Moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars.

“Only those candidates for the board who support these criteria will get my support and my vote in November,” Gibson said.

This is an incredibly narrow-minded view of the work of the school board. The election in November is not about the school board, it is about the students. Elementary school students are greatly benefiting from the school board’s decision to give them full-day Mondays. Gibson showed poor judgment in opposing this needed reform, both during his time on the school board and in his more recent advice to the current school board. Even though he was on the wrong side of this issue, I would hope that Gibson would admit that this vote was 1,000 times more important than the vote on salaries for school board members.

Fairfax County 2015-16 School Calendar is approved

On March 26 the Fairfax County School Board approved the 2015-16 school calendar which sets Tuesday, September 8, as the first day of the school year and Thursday, June 23, 2016, as the last day. There are 180 days in the calendar; apparently this will be the new normal for Fairfax County. In previous years 183 days were scheduled so there would be extra days in the event of snow days.

The press release announcing this decision stated that the 2015-16 calendar “was developed with input from a number of teacher, parent, and community stakeholders.” The only “parent” group participating in this questionnaire was the Fairfax County Council of PTAs. These groups were given the choice of two versions of a 180-day calendar. Clearly there is room for further discussion in future years on the topic of the optimum amount of time in the school year.

On the bright side though, elementary school students will continue to benefit from not having weekly early dismissals. The school board deserves credit for the major accomplishment of having eliminated Monday early dismissals, starting with this current school year.

Steven L. Greenburg, the president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, told the school board Thursday that FCPS management and labor continue to solve serious problems in a collaborative manner “so parents, teachers, and students all end up better than before’…we set a model for others to achieve success.” As an example he cited “Full day Mondays that help students learn, protect teacher planning, and fix calendar issues for parents.”

There will be seven days when all students are dismissed two hours early: October 30; November 25; December 18; February 4, 2016; April 21, 2016; and June 23, 2016. Student holidays are planned for the following:  teacher workdays on November 2; February 5, 2016; and April 22, 2016; a staff development day on January 19, 2016; and school planning days on October 9; November 3; and March 28, 2016.

Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District) proposed a motion to give students the day off on Veterans Day. Steve Hunt, a former school board member, testified in favor of this proposal. Speaking on behalf of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8469, Hunt said that this should not be just another school day. “I know that there are schools that have special events. It is my hope that much like Martin Luther King’s Birthday or President’s Day those events will continue on a day other than the actual holiday.”

Steve Martinez also supported the amendment, but said “it does not go nearly far enough to fully recognize the 11th of November as a holiday for FCPS, as it should be.”

I have been addressing the issue related to Fairfax County Public Schools not recognizing Veterans’ Day, a Federal & State holiday, as a school holiday (i.e., day off) on the school calendar for over 3 years now. I am passionate about this matter since Veterans’ Day is the ONLY holiday which occurs during the school year that is not recognized with a day off for everyone…students, faculty & staff…by FCPS.

Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District) also supported this amendment, which failed by a 10-2 vote.

Winter break is scheduled for December 21 through January 1, 2016, and spring break will be held March 21-25, 2016.  Makeup days may be used to ensure 990 hours of instruction during the 2015-16 school year.  Missed days, delayed openings, and unscheduled early dismissals are considered in the calculation of these hours.  State code requires school districts to make up the first five missed days of school, and then requires only every other day of missed school to be made up.  FCPS asserts that it has the equivalent of 13 days (78 hours) built into the 2015-16 calendar. If a 14th day is missed, no makeup is required by the state.  If a 15th day is missed, April 22, 2016 will be considered a makeup day.

FEA supports the new elementary school schedule

The Fairfax Education Association has posted results of the FEA survey on elementary school schedule implementation. This year Fairfax eliminated the policy of dismissing the elementary school students 2.5 hours early on Monday afternoons.

Here is the conclusion of the survey results:

Moving to a uniform elementary school day has had many good effects. It has increased instructional time, which helps student success; and it has allowed FCPS much greater flexibility in dealing with days lost due to inclement weather. It has also been helpful to parents to have a consistent daily schedule.

FCPS sought to mitigate the loss of staff meeting and planning time previously incorporated into the schedule on Monday afternoons. FCPS sought to guarantee meeting maximums and minimums for teachers’ self-directed planning time through revisions to Regulations 4421 and 4422. However, many schools have not been able to meet the parameters set forth in those regulations. FEA believes that this is in part due to the short timeline involved in implementing the schedule changes. It appears likely that some elementary schools will need assistance and possibly additional resources to be able to adhere to the regulations.

FEA supports the new schedule. We look forward to working collaboratively with FCPS to improve the implementation.


The student calendar should include 183 days

At the public hearing on the FY 2016 budget held tonight, I urged the Fairfax County School Board to add three days to the school calendar next year. Here is my testimony:

In recent years the school board included 183 days in the student calendar. This year this was reduced to 180 days. The proposed budget would save $1.3 million by continuing a limit of 180 days in next year’s calendar.[i] I think it would be better to return to the tradition scheduling three days more than the state requirement of 180 days to allow for snow days.

It is true that Fairfax can meet state requirements by providing more than 990 instructional hours. However, I don’t think we should try to just barely meet state requirements after allowing for snow days and lunch periods and recess. If we have been willing to fund 183 days in the past, I think we should continue this tradition and not try to economize by reducing the number of days the calendar.

The average number of snow days recorded over the past 30 years was 3.9 days per year. Last year and in 2003 and 2010 there were 11 snow days. In the past 12 years we have seen an increasing number of days lost from school due to inclement weather. Let’s not artificially subtract additional days from the standard calendar.

[i] Proposed Budget, Fairfax County, Virginia FY 16, p.52. “Contract Length Reductions—Full-Day Mondays ($1.3 Million)” I believe it is misleading to link these contract length reductions to full day Mondays. It is true that the calendar was adjusted at the same time that the Monday early dismissal policy was eliminated, but it was a separate issue. This year salaries were held harmless, but the proposed FY 2016 budget includes cuts.

Superintendent Garza made some comments on this issue. At this hour (9:50 p.m.) the school board is still meeting, so I will wait until tomorrow to fill in some more details.

Teachers report heavy workload

The Fairfax Times reports that a survey shows workload remains stressor for Fairfax County teachers.

“The shift to full-day Mondays for elementary schools received support from 56 percent of respondents, despite drawing initial criticism from teachers who felt left out of the decision-making,” Kate Yanchulis reports. “But with the new schedule, teachers lost 2.5 hours of planning time on Monday afternoons.”

The survey was conducted from October 31 through November 21 by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers– “91 percent of respondents said they have as much or more work as last year,” the Times reports.

Fairfax VOTER describes schedule and staffing changes in FCPS

The December Fairfax VOTER features an article about the changing schedules in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). This newsletter for the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area includes a description of the switch to full-day Mondays for the elementary schools.

On June 26, the Fairfax County School Board voted to stop dismissing elementary school students 2.5 hours early every Monday. This has increased instructional time for students and allowed for 20 minutes of daily recess. In addition, the change will guarantee dedicated planning time for elementary teachers totaling 300 minutes per week.

As of November 2014, a total of 63.8 positions were allocated to schools as a result of the implementation of full-day Mondays. Brandynn Reaves, a public information specialist with the Department of Communications and Community Outreach, provided me and the other authors of this article with the following information:

The allocation was primarily made as additional art/music/physical education (PE) teachers, but schools are able to utilize the positions in alternate ways to meet their individual needs (e.g., school-based technology specialist, world language teacher, etc.) assuming they are able to provide sufficient planning time for teachers.

There were 755.2 art/music/PE teacher positions budgeted in FY 2014 for elementary schools.  The FY 2015 budget includes 741.2 art/music/PE teacher positions (prior to the 63.8 positions allocated as a result of full-day Mondays).  The net reduction of 14.0 positions is the result of budget reductions due to the increase in class size and needs-based staffing reductions offset by growth in these positions due to student enrollment and demographic adjustments

The Voter article also describes the calendar changes this year and the school board’s decision to provide later start times for high schools and secondary schools next fall.

A shorter answer on full-day Mondays would have been better

One of the answers in the FAQ (frequently asked questions) document posted by Fairfax County Public Schools regarding full-day Mondays is somewhat misleading.

The question:

Why this (Full-Day Mondays) is a priority when there have been severe budget cuts, pay freezes, and destaffs: Why are those needs being ignored and this taking priority?

The answer:

The priority has been to ensure we meet the instructional needs of students and maximize instructional time. The change to full-day Mondays for elementary schools was done to create dedicated planning time for teachers and meet state accreditation requirements for instruction. FCPS was only able to meet the required 180 days or 990 hours of instruction when we had inclement weather by adding time or days to the school year. Additional staff may be hired to help ensure planning time for teachers.

Yes, it is certainly true that one of the main reasons for implementing full-day Mondays was to “meet state accreditation requirements for instruction.”

However, it is misleading to imply that inclement weather was the only challenging aspect of meeting the required 180 days or 990 hours of instruction. Even if there was no time at all lost due to inclement weather, Fairfax County elementary school students were still short of the required time. The only way they could have met the state standards would have been to limit the amount of time for recess to 10 minutes per day.

So, a short answer to this question would have been better. As School Board Chairman Tamara Derenak Kaufax explained in a letter sent to Sharon Bulova, “The timing of the decision after the FY 2015 budget was approved was not our normal process, but FCPS was not in compliance with state requirements to provide a minimum of 990-hours of instruction with an early release on Mondays.”

Bulova explains the Fairfax County transfer to the schools

On Tuesday I reported that Fairfax County Public Schools will probably receive a larger transfer. Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova describes this decision in her monthly newsletter:

The first major item on our agenda was a public hearing, and then adoption of the County’s Carryover Review for the 2014 Fiscal Year Budget, which ended in June of this year.


The County ended the 2014 Fiscal Year with a relatively modest $11 million positive balance out of a $3.7 billion General Fund Budget. This balance is the result of about $8.3 million in more revenue than projected – less than 1% (0.23%) of the original projection. The rest of the balance was mostly the result of savings and efficiencies within County operations.

You can view details of our Board’s Budget Committee meeting of September 2nd and action on the Carryover Budget by going to the County’s website at This site also includes an excellent video that explains the budget process.


On Tuesday, I moved adoption of the Carryover Budget package and the Board supported holding the balance in reserve in order to assist us with adoption of the upcoming Fiscal Year 2016 Budget. We are still not out of the woods as both the County and State are affected by Sequestration and Federal cutbacks in contracting which has impacted our commercial sector.


The Fairfax County Public Schools have also ended the year with a positive ending balance of $23 million. This is after absorbing the cost of beginning all-day-Mondays at elementary schools this school year. Our Board has been supportive of this School Board initiative. On Tuesday, the Board agreed to “bump up” the 3% projected increase in the School Transfer that we have given School staff as guidance for development of next year’s budget. The “bump up” will reflect actual costs for implementing this change and is meant to accommodate the recurring cost of full day Mondays next fiscal year.



Fairfax County Public Schools will probably receive a larger transfer

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 8-2 today to give “guidance” to the school board in budgeting for next year to expect a possible, but not guaranteed, increase of the transfer by 3 percent plus the amount of the cost of full-day Mondays in 2015-16.

At the public hearing preceding the vote, I urged the board to give the school system additional money for the FY 2015 Revised Budget. This was a request the school board had made earlier, but at a joint County-School Board budget meeting September 2, Chairman Sharon Bulova instead proposed adjusting the FY 2016 budget guidance to include providing FCPS with ongoing funding for the actual cost of full-day Mondays in addition to the transfer increase. School Board Chairman Tamara Derenak Kaufax sent Bulova a September 5 memo thanking her for that proposal and did not ask for additional funds for FY 2015.

However, even this compromise was not acceptable to Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) or Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence). At today’s meeting, Frey said it was wrong on so many levels. He questioned how full-day Mondays could be such a high priority when it wasn’t even included in the budget that the school board approved in May. He said, “We are destroying our own credibility.”

I started out my testimony by saying “Yesterday was the first Monday in over 40 years that all students in our elementary schools were able to have a full day in school.”

Frey asked why it was such an urgent matter to change a policy that had been in effect for 40 years. Derenauk Kaufax had explained this very well in her earlier memo: “The timing of the decision after the FY 2015 budget was approved was not our normal process, but FCPS was not in compliance with state requirements to provide a minimum of 990-hours of instruction with an early release on Mondays.”

The state requirements had changed in 2006 and at the time I pointed this out as an urgent reason to eliminate the Monday early dismissal policy. This February I helped start a petition urging the school board to end this policy. We said, “Fairfax County should expand the elementary school schedule to make it easier for schools to comply with the state requirements for the standard school day while at the same time officially ending the unrealistic 10-minute limit for recess.“

Frey also questioned why a few extra snow days would make a schedule change such a priority.  I think it just dilutes the severity of the time deficit to cite the snow day issue as a justification for reform. That was only a very small part of the problem. It’s not about the snow days; it’s about the standard school days.

Here are the comments I made at the public hearing:

Yesterday was the first Monday in over 40 years that all students in our elementary schools were able to have a full day in school. Last February I helped start a petition urging the Fairfax County School Board to end the policy of dismissing elementary school students 2 ½ hours early every Monday. We said, “Fairfax County should expand the elementary school schedule to make it easier for schools to comply with the state requirements for the standard school day while at the same time officially ending the unrealistic 10-minute limit for recess.“

On June 26, the school board voted to implement a uniform elementary day that will increase instructional time and will allow for 20 minutes of daily recess for children. The cost of $7.6 million for all 142 elementary schools represents a needed investment for a very substantial improvement in the schedules for both students and teachers.

The school board deserves applause for making this decision, not a slap on the wrist. I urge you to demonstrate your full support of this vitally needed reform by giving the school system additional money for the FY 2015 Revised Budget.

Here is a link to the FY 2014 Carryover Board Motions that were approved today. The paragraph discussing the transfer says:

“Board approval of an increase in they FY 2016 planned transfer for school operations, which is currently projected at 3%, to also cover the FY 2016 costs of full day Mondays. The School have funded, within their Carryover Review, the preliminary estimate of Full Day Mondays for FY 2015. Once the actual costs of implementation have been identified, the FY 2016 budget forecast will reflect these recurring costs.”

The carryover also adjusted the County budget for school clinics, School-Age Child Care (SACC), and the Monday programming at RECenters and Nature Centers operated by the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Whatever misgivings Frey and Smythe may have had about the timing of the implementation of full-day Mondays this September, I don’t understand why they were not willing to agree to the possibility of new funding for FY 2016. It’s a positive development that a majority of the supervisors voted for this.

The memo by Derenak Koufax ends with thanks to Bulova and the other supervisors who supported additional funding:

On behalf of the School Board and the Fairfax County Public Schools administration, I want to thank you for proposing a motion to adjust the FY 2016 budget guidance to include providing FCPS with ongoing funding for the actual cost of full-day Mondays in addition to the transfer increase. I would also like to express our gratitude to the Supervisors who publicly offered their support for this recommendation. We recognize and thank the Supervisors fur funding the costs that will occur in the County’s budget due to full-day Mondays this school year.

The School Board and the FCPS community appreciate that a strong investment in education remains your top priority. Thank you again for the collaborative dialogue and the opportunity to share the benefits of implementing a full-day of instruction on Mondays.”

Correction–A typo in the number of hours was corrected June 10. (990 hours, not 99 hours)