Joint Retreat: Review Current Goals, Priorities and Challenges
A joint retreat of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and Fairfax County School Board was held at the Junior Achievement Finance Park at Frost Middle School, 4099 Pickett Rd. on Saturday, Feb. 25.
You may also review the notes from each topic session and view related presentations by topic.
- Board of Supervisors’ priorities
- Board of Supervisors Retreat - Chairman's summary
- Bulova Byline newsletter
Board of Supervisors Chairman Bulova
Two weeks ago, we spent two days in Mount Vernon at the Lorton Workhouse Arts Center, a wonderful example of redevelopment and revitalization and historic reuse, a neat location which tells a story. In past years, we struggled knowing we had to make budget reductions and changes but we did so by inviting the community to the table with us to help guide us to make tough decisions. Whether people agreed or not with our decisions they knew they had been consulted and had a chance to weigh in.
We also talked about how our rating agencies view us so we had our financial advisers talk to us about what the rating agencies look at and how they view us when they decide to give us our rating. We are on a negative outlook list with Moody’s because of the federal government and their budget and Congress, not because of anything the county has done, so how can we continue to do what we need to do to maintain a triple A rating?
On the second day the discussion was on transportation, challenges countywide and getting down to the district level. We all have transportation needs on a smaller scale than rail to Dulles or transit down Richmond Highway and we have a gap between what we anticipate as revenue and capacity for financing and bonding and what we want to do. We will discuss that today as well because we have the same issues with education, we want more and need to do more but there are not enough resources to do so.
We talked about redevelopment as we mature as a county. Decades ago we were green fields full of farms but as we grew our development pattern was different. What will we see in the future? We will redevelop older parts of the county and it’s important as we experience growth in population that we resolve challenges that our past development patterns present us with. In the past our shopping centers were separated from other places and people had to get in their cars to get anywhere.
So our future is in redevelopment, how we can direct our growth in ways that are more transit oriented so people can use transit or walk rather than get in their car. And how do we continue to support our stable, residential community that is already here? We also talked about education; education continues to be our number one priority. Any member of the Board of Supervisors will say a well-educated community will bring industry, have fewer social issues, be a safer community; people will want to live here more so than in places where education isn’t a priority.
School Board Chairman Strauss
First of all, the School Board is not as far along. We have welcomed six new members and barely begun the process of talking about our vision and priorities. We have had one retreat but we will have many more opportunities to discuss this among ourselves. Every single child has a right to an excellent education; we don’t want to leave a single child out of our focus. We focus on every single child’s needs. We have high expectations for every child. Over 50 focus groups, and through a survey, we found what the community wants for a well-rounded education program.
We want to make sure our youngsters have life skills, can demonstrate the ability to live a respectful life, and learn ethical behavior. Students have a tutoring program, they bring reading materials into the home. After world events over the past few years, students came and asked to be able to help in places like Haiti so the School Board changed policies so students could do more outreach throughout the world and reach out and communicate globally. The School Board feels that there is a responsibility to send out educated students.
The birthrate is up in Fairfax County, we think it will continue to go up; we are graduating seniors in smaller classes than we see in kindergarten. It appears people are not moving out farther from D.C., they are staying in Fairfax County. Our student population has an increased poverty rate than in the past, we have to work harder to make sure those kids have the opportunity to succeed like everyone else. Fifty percent of the children in our kindergarten classes come from homes where English is not the first language spoken. In terms of growth, we talk about revitalization of urban areas, we repurpose old properties and sites and will continue to do so but for the first time, we are seeing student growth in areas where we have no schools.
There are wonderful opportunities for shared efforts. The other place where we have a challenge, student achievement continues to rise. The minority student achievement gap has shrunk and we should be proud of what has been achieved. Looking forward, nationally we would like to get away from test preparation and overemphasis on testing. We need to have more opportunities for private/public partnerships like Finance Park.
Sup. Hyland: The most delicate relationship we have is between our School Board and the Board of Supervisors. We’ve seen differences over the years, at times it’s been confrontational and antagonistic, but the county is three-quarters of the School Board’s budget and the transfer request rarely matches the funding available. Our respective staffs have moved light years ahead in terms of working together. We are sitting here for the first time in a full day retreat.
We represent the same people. The same people lobby you who lobby us, and if they feel they can’t get it from you they come to get it from us. We have the same constituents. Maybe we need a process to address the bumps that cause conflict and angst and it is an issue that we should talk about. It’s not enough for us to say we don’t do curriculum and that’s the School Board’s job, if we’re going to be working together we need to address the problems that arise. But that’s not the only challenge each board has. There have been times where there have been strong feelings about the roles of the two boards.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Bulova: Our staffs are working together at a greater degree than ever before. We need to look at how our boards work together. Our staffs have already identified ways we can work together.
School Board Member McLaughlin: I’m excited about this opportunity. There’s a crossover of services between the two boards, I’d like to applaud the Board of Supervisors for the proactive response to the discipline issue, and want to improve our abilities to serve our constituents. In terms of the budget, there is a renewed sensitivity of working together with school and other county needs. Kudos to County Executive Tony Griffin as he prepares to leave the county.
School Board Chairman Strauss: We both share the challenge of flattening communications. The ability of people very quickly to move issues to everyone increases engagement.
Sup. Hudgins: We’re all here because of the community. I hope we can communicate more clearly together so it’s not School Board or Board of Supervisors but we can speak with one voice since we work together and understand the common goal.
School Board Member Schultz: With the money we spend between the two boards, the goals of the School Board and the school system cannot be at cross purposes with the Board of Supervisors. There’s nothing the School Board would want to do in delivering excellent school services that the Board of Supervisors would be opposed to. A weaving together of priorities is needed, ours are not mutually exclusive of yours. We represent the same people and we should have the same priorities.
Sup. Cook: We can’t remain in stovepipes, where the School Board only thinks of the school system and the Board of Supervisors thinks of everything but the school system. We need to feel a greater responsibility for the whole. If we set ourselves up in stovepipes we will always have the tension. We don’t have the knowledge base on the schools and the School Board doesn’t have the knowledge base on county functions but we need to take more responsibility for learning about the other.
Sup. Gross: A little tension is good. We don’t all have to think the same way. But there’s a dynamic enhanced by some tension so different points of view and approaches are there. I don’t like negativity and conflict but some tension is good.
Sup. Foust: Our boards are dedicated to public education as the number one priority. We are proud of what the School Board accomplishes. But education is not our only priority; we deal with human services and public safety, which are also critical to have the community we want to live in. Tension comes because of that but we have to work on a balance for all needs.
Sup. McKay: The elephant in the room is communications. How do we communicate with each other? We should be doing more. Tension is not knowing what’s going on in the schools to the extent that the public expects the Board of Supervisors to know. I know way more about what’s going on in parks and libraries than about what’s going on in the schools.
A few years ago we moved a crosswalk at a school to improve walking safety, and a few years later a parent called up and thanked me for adding the crosswalk but said the School Board had removed the crossing guard so the crosswalk couldn’t be used. Both boards need to work on better communications, much of the tension stems from lack of communication. Today is a great way to embark on a new way to communicate.