Elizabeth Schultz sends budget comments

School board candidate Elizabeth Schultz, who is seeking to represent the Springfield District in the November election, sent an email to the school board Wednesday supporting increased teacher pay, full-day kindergarten, increased use of the construction reserve, and an independent audit function for the school system. Here is the text of her email:

Due to commitments elsewhere in the county last evening, I was unable to provide personal testimony with respect to the pending FY2012 budget deliberations facing the School Board.

As an active parent, community member and Fairfax Education Coalition Executive Board Member, I have urged this School Board on a number of issues to pursue accountability, transparency and community engagement in the Fairfax County Public Schools’ decision-making process.

It is laudable that, upon a fiscally responsible transfer from the Board of Supervisors to FCPS, the penultimate goal was met in terms of the long-promised increase to teachers. It is noted the increase was provided with no additional funding by the county’s taxpayers through the Board of Supervisors. One wonders, with a determined focus from the outset on this priority, if the increase to teachers has, in fact, gone far enough? If less effort had been expended on traversing the county encouraging residents to lobby the Supervisors for a real estate tax increase versus addressing this priority with the existing funds which, due to the circumstances, has now been done, would the teachers have been fared better? The School Board is to be commended for providing an increase for teacher; in the winnowing days of this budget cycle, though, the School Board is strongly encouraged to pursue any further efficiencies which could result in eking out even a modest additional amount.

The construction reserve, which has been repeatedly referenced by this School Board and Staff, was identified as the funding source for any building modifications necessary as a result of the Southwestern County Boundary Study decision. Yet, the November 2011 Bond language now inexplicably and incongruously includes $13,688,696 Million taxpayer dollars for such modifications and moving of trailers (see below). Again, with facility needs and commitments so great – like the long overlooked West Springfield High School – why wasn’t the construction ‘reserve’ maximized for these facility additions and the nearly $14 million on the November Bond directed to critical obligations like WSHS? Continuing to defer from use of the ‘construction reserve’ when faced with a proverbial torrential downpour is senseless.

As the final iterations of the budget and amendments are contemplated, the pursuit of maximum implementation of Full Day K is essential. This vital education parity is necessary for the benefit of teachers currently compressing the Kindergarten curriculum into a half-day program and for the essential support and the long term educational success of the students. Every effort to fully implement Full Day K is strongly encouraged, which will also allow FCPS to fully realize the SACC-savings offered by the Board of Supervisors.

Finally, it is absolutely critical to openly and deliberately pursue an independent audit function to report directly to the School Board. There is no arms-length review upon which the School Board Members may rely in identifying financial and programmatic efficiencies. In a detailed meeting with Michael Longhi, it became very clear the advantage the Board of Supervisors has in seeking the professional expertise of its own independent Office of Financial and Program Audit, which permits the Supervisors access to and review of data review not generated by staff. This pursuit of accountability is the essence of good stewardship of the public’s money.

With an annual cost of $330,000, representing three FTEs, the BoS’ independent audit function has reported a realized $4 Million in savings and/or cost avoidance in the third quarter. The cost of such a function is not the focus for the BoS, but rather the benefits. This independent audit office is in addition to 12 county FTEs dedicated to internal audit. Thus, between 46%-47% of the county’s budget has 15 FTEs in either an internal or independent audit capacity. There is no comparable function – internal or independent – for the 53%-54% of the county’s budget which is transferred to FCPS.

The School Board should enthusiastically embrace following both the example and recommendation of the County to adopt an independent audit function to maximize meeting the educational priorities and needs in Fairfax County. The students, families, teachers, residents and taxpayers are direct beneficiaries of such an effort. The School Board, therefore, is urged to hasten implementation of this function as soon as possible.

With regards,

Elizabeth L. Schultz

Clifton, VA

An explanation for the incongruent statements by FCPS Staff and School Board with respect to the Southwestern County Boundary additions and the November 2011 Bond is requested:

  1. “there will not be construction loans to fund the proposed additions.”;  http://www.fcps.edu/fts/planning/southwesternstudy/faq.pdf, Page 33, FCPS Answer to Question 46 & 47
  2. “The current economic downturn has resulted in FCPS receiving very favorable bids on construction projects. The savings resulting from these lower bids will be used for the proposed building additions.”; http://www.fcps.edu/fts/planning/southwesternstudy/faq.pdf, Page 45, FCPS Answer to Question 3; Page 49, FCPS Answer to Question 2
  3. “We actually have a great deal of money in what we call the ‘construction reserve,'” said Tistadt, who then explained that the funds were left over from previous bond referendums. “According to law, that money can be spent on any capital project.”; http://centreville.patch.com/articles/second-round-of-boundary-sessions-held-at-colin-powell,
  4. “That the School Board authorize staff to use existing bond authority within the construction reserve account: to design and construct building additions at Fairfax Villa, Greenbriar East, and Union Mill Elementary schools; to relocate a modular building to Centreville Elementary School; to perform interior architectural modifications to Fairview Elementary School; and to otherwise implement the Board’s action as stated in this Agenda Item.”; http://www.fcps.edu/fts/planning/southwesternstudy/agendaitem1-20-11.pdf

On another significant Bond related note, it isn’t lost on many residents throughout the county that six elementary schools are slated for renovation at a cost of $89,713,207 or an average of $14,952,201 per school. This is in direct conflict with the argument made by this School Board that Clifton Elementary was “too expensive to renovate”.

Elementary School Renovation

FCPS Dashboard Actual Enrollment

Nov 2011 Proposed Bond

Funding Allocation

Cost per Student

Terra Centre

549

$       16,614,596

(planning & construction) $      30,263
Sunrise Valley

644

$       16,215,447

(planning & construction) $      25,179
Canterbury Woods

655

$       14,894,268

(construction) $      22,739
Westgate

505

$       14,221,431

(planning & construction) $      28,161
Garfield

332

$       14,158,593

(planning & construction) $      42,646
Clermont

469

$       13,608,872

(planning & construction) $      29,017
Cliftoneliminated by FCPS as “too expensive” to renovate

370

$       11,009,544

per Final Staff Report (construction) $      29,756

Elementary School Renovations

Average Renovation Cost per School

Proposed Funding Allocation
Nov 2011 Bond

$        89,713,207

$       14,952,201

6 elementary school renovations
https://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fairfax/Board.nsf/files/8FPRLA68721A/$file/Attachment%20B%20-%20Proposed%20Referendum.pdf
CAPACITY ENHANCEMENT

Added Enrollment Capacity

Nov 2011 Proposed Bond

Funding Allocation

Cost per Student

Fairfax Villa ES

156

$        3,129,294

(6 rooms) avg class = 26 $      20,060
Greenbriar East ES

216

$        3,889,687

(9 rooms) avg class = 24 $      18,008
Union Mill ES

216

$        3,419,715

(8 rooms) avg class = 27 $      15,832
Modular Relocations

$        3,250,000

Capacity Enhancement Subtotal:

588

$      13,688,696

 

Clifton ES Program Capacity

-382

Net  Enrollment Capacity Increase

206

$      13,688,696

23 rooms (permanent) $      66,450
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