School Budget FAQ
Chairman Bulova Answers Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Budget and School Funding
Due to a combination of economic factors and increasing demand for services, the FY2015 Budget is shaping up to be very challenging. I know many residents have concerns about the School Budget and I thought it would be helpful to provide answers to some frequently asked questions about the County and Schools respective budgets.
My colleagues on the Board of Supervisors and I have always considered our public school system our highest priority. Historically, over 52% of the County’s General Fund is transferred to Fairfax County Public Schools each year - more than four times as much as we spend on the next largest service category.
I am concerned about some of the rhetoric I am hearing because we need both county and school services to maintain quality of life in Fairfax County. The County side of the budget includes over $70 million for services which directly support the school system, such as Head Start, School Health Nurses, School Resource Officers, Crossing Guard, field maintenance and a variety of after school and recreation programs.
Moreover, County government provides many of the services which establish the conditions for a successful school system. Public safety services protect all residents from danger, County human service programs provide families with basic needs, mental health and substance abuse and our park and library systems provide enrichment and recreation opportunities.
I am working with my colleagues and with our counterparts on the School Board to find ways to continue the excellence of our public school system.
1. When will the decisions on the School Budget be made?
The Board will formally ‘mark-up” or make changes to the Advertised Budget on April 22 at 10 AM. The Board of Supervisors will be adopting a budget, including a school transfer, on April 29. Both of these meetings will be televised and live streamed on Channel 16.
The School Board will then adopt a budget for the school system on May 22. All of the milestones in the budget process can be found on the County’s Budget Calendar and the Fairfax County Public Schools Budget Calendar.
2. Where are we in the budget process?
The County Executive presented his Advertised Budget proposal on February 25. The Advertised Budget is a draft budget for discussion with the community and County Executive Long’s proposal includes over $1.9 billion for Fairfax County Public Schools, an increase of over $39 million from FY2014.
In response to the request from the School Board and comments from the community, the Board of Supervisors advertised a tax rate of $1.105 on March 4th, an increase of two cents from the FY2014 Adopted Budget rate. By advertising a rate, the Board established the maximum rate which could be adopted into the budget in April. Changing the real estate tax rate by one penny increases County revenue by $21.9 million.
Advertising a higher rate creates flexibility rather than cutting off further debate and discussion about funding for services, including our schools. At this point in the process, the Board can adopt a lower rate than $1.105 per $100 of assessed value and as Chairman, it is my intention to seek ways to adopt a budget that does not require a tax rate increase of two cents. When we voted to advertise the tax rate, my colleagues and I also asked the County Executive to prepare a list of possible savings or reductions on the County side of the Budget as alternatives to increasing the rate when we adopt a budget.
3. How can I get involved in the budget process?
Throughout March, residents can visit the Department of Management and Budget’s website to learn more about the County Executive’s proposal and the Advertised Tax Rate and how it could affect County services and programs. Citizens can contact their District Supervisors or attend a Town Hall Meeting to learn more and share their thoughts on the Budget. Residents can also sign up to speak at Public Hearings on the Budget on April 8, 9 and 10.
4. Is the Board of Supervisors reducing funding to Fairfax County Public Schools?
No. At the direction of the Board of Supervisors, the County Executive proposed a budget which would increase the school transfer by two percent (approximately $39 million).
Despite lingering economic challenges from the Great Recession, sequestration and the federal government shutdown, the Board of Supervisors has continued to increase the School Transfer in recent years. Over the past five years, the Board has increased the School Transfer by more than $90 million. During the same period, County services and programs have been reduced by $170 million.
5. Can the Board of Supervisors enact a Meals Tax to generate additional revenue for Fairfax County Public Schools?
Under Virginia law, the Board of Supervisors does not have the authority to enact a Meals Tax. A referendum approved by a majority of county voters is required. The County did put a meals tax to referendum in 1992 but it was not successful. The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce strongly opposes a meals tax and has vowed to come out strongly against it if it were put on the ballot again. The County’s Department of Management and Budget recently provided a report to the School Board and the Board of Supervisors on the history and legal requirements of the meals tax.
Several of my colleagues raised this issue again during our discussion of the Advertised Tax Rate and we will likely revisit the possibility of a meals tax referendum in the coming months.
6. Are there opportunities to identify efficiencies and savings for Fairfax County Public Schools by engaging an independent auditor?
I support the creation of an independent auditor position which reports directly to the School Board. The Board of Supervisors recommended the School Board hire an independent auditor when we adopted our FY2013 and FY2014 Budgets.
The Board of Supervisors established an Auditor to the Board in 1998. This small office works independently from the County Executive and his fiscal staff. Our Auditor has identified millions of dollars in efficiencies and reductions and I feel that the School Board would find this opportunity similarly beneficial.
7. Are there alternative reductions which the Board of Supervisors can make to the school budget other than increasing student-teacher ratios?
Per the Constitution of Virginia, the School Board has authority over how the budget for the school system is spent and which programs and positions are funded. The Board of Supervisors does not have ‘line-item’ authority over items in the Fairfax County Public Schools Budget.
Increasing student-teach ratio, class sizes or eliminating teacher positions would not be my choice for reductions.
8. Are there other alternative ways of funding our school system?
While Fairfax County Public Schools receives nearly 70% of its operating budget from local tax dollars transferred by the Board of Supervisors, our schools also receive funding from the state and federal government. Last year, the Commonwealth provided over 15% of the School’s budget.
The General Assembly is currently debating the biannual state budget and we estimate that our state legislators may provide an additional $27 million to $32 million to the school system this year above the funds anticipated in the School Board’s Advertised Budget. It’s not too late to contact your state representatives to encourage them to return more of the revenue raised in Northern Virginia to our local schools.
Chairman, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors