Garza justifies her proposed budget increase for Fairfax County Public Schools

Superintendent Karen Garza makes a good case for increasing the budget for Fairfax County Public Schools by 4.8 percent over the Fiscal Year 2016 budget. In order to balance the budget, and due to  nearly flat state aid, a 6.7 percent increase in the county budget transfer to FCPS is requested..

Here is the email message that Garza sent out today:

Dear FCPS Community:

I am so grateful to be the Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools – a school system with a tradition of excellence and one that has long enjoyed the tremendous support and engagement of the entire community. FCPS’ reputation for excellence is forged through genuine community investment. Our dedication and success is first and foremost to ensure success for every FCPS student, but this success also attracts businesses and people to our county, and fosters meaningful connections to our schools for residents of all ages.

Last night, I presented the FY 2017 Proposed Budget of $2.7 billion to the School Board. This year, I am asking our employees, students and families to stand with me to reverse the trend of nearly a decade of underfunding our school system. This is the year we must begin the restoration and rebuilding process. We have heard loud and clear from our community they do not want additional cuts to the programs and services that make FCPS great.

For the past nine years, we have cut a half billion dollars from our budgets due to insufficient funding to meet our increasing enrollment, rising health care costs, state retirement increases, and employee salary needs. Our teacher salaries are lagging behind other local jurisdictions, and this year we started school with an unprecedented 200 vacancies, we must do everything in our power to see that this never happens again.

The skills that we want for our students are taught, fostered and honed by great teachers in the classroom. I am pleased to announce that this budget has two key priorities focused on investment in the classroom:

  1. As a first step in a multiyear strategy to invest in our entire workforce, we have included a step increase for all eligible employees, a 1 percent market scale adjustment for all employees and an additional $40 million investment in the teacher salary scales. This investment narrows the salary gap for teachers and is an important first step toward improving compensation for all employees. Teachers make up the largest percentage of our workforce so that is where we begin with this initial investment. The budget also includes a salary adjustment for those employees whose hourly rates are below Fairfax County’s living wage standard.
  2. We are also making a significant investment in our elementary students through the lowering of class sizes. Class size has risen three times in the past decade to balance annual budgets. We are including more than $10 million to hire additional classroom teachers at the elementary school level to reduce class size in every elementary classroom to below 30 students, where classroom space is available.

We are calling on our funding partners at the state and local level to help us to fully fund the FY 2017 budget. We are asking for a 6.7% increase in the county budget transfer, which is needed to fund the basic needs of our school system. If we are unable to receive the revenue necessary to meet these basic and pressing needs then we will be forced to make unthinkable choices about where we cut next.

It is time to start investing in our community’s most important resources….our schools and our students. You can learn more about the budget proposal, and obtain resources to get engaged at

A quality education is not a luxury, it is a necessity!

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Comparison of Washington area teacher salaries is reported

Teachers can make $15,000 more just by moving to the district next door. The Washington Post compares the salaries in the school districts participating in the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) report. One comment noted that although Arlington County paid teachers more than Fairfax, the benefits package was significantly weaker. The commenter noted that one teacher compared an offer from Arlington, and although the salary was $13,500 more, after counting benefits, the difference ended up being “less than $100 more per month.”

New York City to offer more computer science courses

In a speech before hundreds of parents and educators, Mayor Bill de Blasio yesterday laid out new reforms for New York City public schools. He committed to expanding Advanced Placement classes to every school; ensuring that all students take algebra by 9th grade or earlier, and providing every student with computer science classes in elementary, middle and high schools.

The New York Times reports  that at least two other American cities have decided to offer computer science courses to all students. Chicago has pledged to make a computer science  a high school graduation requirement by 2018. Also “The San Francisco Board of Education voted in June to offer it from prekindergarten through high school, and to make it mandatory through eighth grade.”

Here is the portion of the mayor’s press release  dealing with computer science:

Every student will receive computer science education in elementary, middle, and high school within the next 10 years. Through this commitment, every student will learn the fundamentals of computer science, like coding, robotics and web design. This promotes critical skills like thinking creatively, working as a team, and interacting with technology, as well as technical skills that will power the 21st century economy. The Software Engineering Pilot (SEP) has brought computer science to 2,700 students in 18 middle and high schools across the city during the 2014-15 school year, and the number of computer science programs will be expanded significantly beginning in fall 2016.

  • Students reached: By 2025, all 1.1 million students will receive a computer science education in elementary through high schools.
  • Cost: $81 million commitment over 10 years. Computer Science for All will be funded through a public-private partnership between the City of New York, CSNYC, Robin Hood Foundation and AOL Charitable Foundation who have committed to a 1:1 match of City funds.
  • Full implementation: New classes starting in fall 2016 with full implementation in all grade levels by 2025.

Graduation rates rise

“More students are graduating from high school than ever before, and that number could rise again with this year’s seniors,” the Atlantic reports.

The national graduation rate for the 2012-13 school year was 81 percent, which was up from 80 percent the year before and 79 percent the year before that, according to the U.S. Department of Education. This sort of growth is possible as a result of the huge improvements in the numbers of black and Latinos getting their diplomas. But it’s also due to specific state improvements.



Parents are asked to provide more school supplies

Strapped schools ask parents for copier paper, cleaning supplies, tissues. The Washington Post reports, “While nearly all schools frame supply lists as a request and not a requirement, the assumption that families will comply is stressful for those with low incomes, said Dan Cardinali, president of Communities In Schools.”

For the coming school year, families on average will spend $642 for elementary school students, $918 for middle school students and $1,284 for high school students, according to a recent study by Huntington Bank. Those amounts include not only school supplies but also fees, which schools are increasingly charging for extracurricular activities, workbooks, textbooks and the use of school laboratories.

U.S. faces a shortage of qualified teachers

“In California, the number of people entering teacher preparation programs dropped by more than 55 percent from 2008 to 2012,” the New York Times reports. “Nationally, the drop was 30 percent from 2010 to 2014.”

Seeing stagnating wages and teacher layoffs during the recession, “prospective teachers became wary of accumulating debt or training for jobs that might not exist. As the economy has recovered, college graduates have more employment options with better pay and a more glamorous image, like in a rebounding technology sector.”

The Times reports that some school districts are hiring teachers to start working even before they complete their degrees.

At the local, state, and national levels, officials need to ensure that they are offering good career prospects to people who train to be teachers.

High school transcripts are used to assess whether students need remediation

Montgomery College tests a new approach to remedial math courses. According to the Washington Post, more than 60 percent of Montgomery County graduates attending this college require remedial math courses.

The Post reports that a pilot program at Montgomery College looks at high school transcripts rather than relying on standardized test results.

“We have come to believe that having a high-stakes test is not the best way to measure someone’s mathematical competency,” said John Hamman, dean of mathematics and statistics at Montgomery College. “Trying to look at a longer history of their work makes more sense than what they are able to do on one particular day.”

American schools might be better at encouraging creativity than European schools

James B. Stewart believes that a fearless culture fuels U.S. tech giants

Often overlooked in the success of American start-ups is the even greater number of failures. “Fail fast, fail often” is a Silicon Valley mantra, and the freedom to innovate is inextricably linked to the freedom to fail. In Europe, failure carries a much greater stigma than it does in the United States. Bankruptcy codes are far more punitive, in contrast to the United States, where bankruptcy is simply a rite of passage for many successful entrepreneurs.

Petre Moser, assistant professor of economics at Standard and its Europe Center, said that Europeans have been trying to recreate Silicon Valley with little success, “The institutional and cultural differences are still too great.”

In his New York Times column, Stewart explains:

One of Europe’s greatest innovations was the forerunner of the modern university: Bologna, founded in 1088. But as centers of research and innovation, Europe’s universities long ago ceded leadership to those in the United States.

With its emphasis on early testing and sorting, the educational system in Europe tends to be very rigid. “If you don’t do well at age 18, you’re out,” Professor Moser said. “That cuts out a lot of people who could do better but never get the chance. The person who does best at a test of rote memorization at age 17 may not be innovative at 23.” She added that many of Europe’s most enterprising students go to the United States to study and end up staying.

She is currently doing research into creativity. “The American education system is much more forgiving,” Professor Moser said. “Students can catch up and go on to excel.”

Libraries help with internet access

Libraries help close the digital divide. Stephen Barker, a librarian in Prince Georges County, describes the vital role of libraries play in providing internet access. Librarians can try to assist with on-line job applications, but sometimes are frustrated by poorly designed on-line applications. “No one should have to spend hours on dysfunctional Web sites to find an entry-level job,” Barker says. “How many unemployed people have thrown up their hands in despair and joined the ranks of the long-term unemployed?”

His op-ed in today’s Washington Post says we must do more to eliminate the digital divide:

As a nation, we have to do more to make computers available to all people. While public libraries are one part of it, local librarians can’t do it all. The government should increase grants to schools, libraries and community centers, especially in low-income and economically depressed areas. Community colleges could make some computers available to the public and offer free computer classes to adults, as Prince George’s County Memorial Library System does.

Project Momentum replaces Priority Schools Initiative

County schools overhaul support program addressing low test scores. Kate Yanchulis explains that administrators of Fairfax County Public Schools have changed the approach and the name of the Priority Schools Initiative to Project Momentum. Many of the 47 Priority Schools will continue to receive some additional support through Project Momentum, “but the majority of resources will be focused on a small group of 15-18 schools judged to have the largest academic needs.”

The funding in the FY 2016 budget for Project Momentum is $4.3 million.