I disagree with those who say that the Fairfax County School Board’s request for an increase in the transfer of 5.7 percent from Fairfax County is overly ambitious. The Advertised Budget of $2.5 billion is a net increase of only 2.4 percent, or $59.4 million, from the FY 2014 Approved Budget. The school system needs at least this amount of money to cover enrollment growth, an increase in health insurance rates, an increase in contributions to the Virginia Retirement System, and to provide an adequate schedule for the elementary school students.
Today’s snow day is another reminder that the elementary school schedule in Fairfax is substandard. There have been several news reports about the new 10-minute limit for recess in Prince William County. Reporters have failed to note that Fairfax County has had a nominal limit of 10 minutes per day for recess for the past seven years. This schedule is inadequate and unrealistic. It is true that most students are allowed more than 10 minutes for recess. However, when this happens, the students are not getting the time required for the standard school day in the Standards of Accreditation. The time provided for the elementary school students is not sufficient. Fairfax should fix this problem by ending Monday early dismissals.
Although it is possible to implement full-day Mondays without additional cost, I think it would be preferable to provide additional funding to provide alternative planning time for the teachers. I believe that FCPS should provide a minimum of five hours of planning time per week within the student day for every full-time elementary school teacher. This increase of 2 ½ hours more than is now provided would compensate for eliminating the Monday afternoon planning time. This was the recommendation of the Time and Learning Task Force in 1996.
The funding for this additional staffing in the elementary schools could be provided by reallocating some of the money in the school board’s Advertised Budget. The Priority Schools Initiative could be eliminated for a savings of $4.6 million and the reduction in “needs-based” staffing could be increased by another $12 million or so.
This is money that could be reallocated from the budget with a 5.7 increase in the transfer. If the Board of Supervisors adopts County Executive Ed Long’s proposal for only a two percent increase in the transfer, that would make it very difficult to provide the additional staffing that could facilitate an acceptable elementary school schedule.
Providing an elementary school schedule which complies with the requirements of the Standards of Accreditation and also provides more than 10 minutes per day for recess is one of the fundamental responsibilities of both the Fairfax County School Board and the Board of Supervisors. It is a false economy and a risky strategy to provide a substandard schedule for elementary school students. This schedule needs to be fixed as soon as possible. Fairfax needs to stop Monday early dismissals and provide more recess time.