Increasing pay for teachers and education support workers, funding foreign-language programs, and improving conditions at were just a handful of issues raised by Fairfax County residents during the School Board’s public hearing on the Monday night.
“Public education and public educators are under attack in this budget process and in the larger education picture, we need your strong leadership,” said Michael Hairston with the Fairfax Education Association, who was one of many to advocate on behalf of reduced class sizes and offering more compensation to teachers for the hours they work.
Forty-six people addressed the board to ask the members to carefully consider their decisions regarding what to cut from the budget. The Parent Advocacy Handbook became a hot topic during the hearing, with many parents calling it a resource they felt should be funded and made widely available.
The most popular topics of the night included items already included in the budget, such as increases for teachers and more support for custodians and other FCPS service workers. The allocates $0.4 million for salary adjustments to custodial staff, $42 million for step increases for eligible employees and $36.6 million for a two-percent market scale adjustment for all employees.
Many testified custodians are stretched too thin with more work than their staff can handle and urged the board to consider the effect increases in enrollment would have on an already overexerted staff.
“We cannot add students to the schools and expect a need for custodial staff to stay the same or go down,” said Dennis Wilson, a bricklayer with FCPS who spoke on behalf of the FEA Education Support Professionals.
Steve Greenburg with the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers drew applause from the crowd when he spoke in favor of the market-scale adjustment and step increase.
“Our teachers are overdue… we can’t attract and retain the best teachers to service our schools if this pattern continues,” Greenburg said.
“Teachers work long, hard hours and they deserve to get decent pay for what they do,” said Ralph Cooper, who echoed Greenburg’s sentiments and also passionately championed the need for pre-K to help close the achievement gap.
Some speakers were critical of the budget process and suggested each member have a full-time representative to help them with their duties as members of the board. Others urged the board to be more transparent with the budget and establish priorities to help taxpayers have a fuller picture of where taxpayer money is spent.
“We’re paying high taxes for low achievement,” said Arthur Purves, president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, who argued it is unnecessary to raise salaries in order for FCPS to be competitive.
Lolita Mancheno-Smoak, former candidate for the School Board and member of the Coalition of the Silence, asked the board to consider analyzing programs before deciding whether it has value.
“Give yourselves a chance to ask whether a program is delivering cost effective results,” Mancheno-Smoak said.
freshman Marcia Cunning was one of the first speakers to ask the board to keep benefits for parent liaisons in the budget. Cunning said people like her mother, who is a parent liaison, help families get the attention and help they need when no one else can.
“Everything parent liaisons do benefit families, school staff, and the community… it’s sad that all the things parent liaisons do benefit so many others, and yet, they have no benefits provided to them by FCPS,” Cunning said.
A group of parents and students, including former School Board member Tina Hone, stood silently and held signs that read “We support benefit for parent liaisons” whenever someone spoke in favor of the group.
Hone, who spoke on behalf of the Coalition of the Silence, urged the board to invest in expanded learning opportunities and suggested “fixing the pipleline” to create more diversity at , which she called a “segregated school."
Students like Laura and Arthur Haneline, who introduced themselves in French, asked the board to keep the Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES) program. parent Alex Krezel asked the board to ensure those programs are fully funded and distributed throughout the pyramids.
Parents and students at Falls Church High School (FCHS) and mentioned sinks and toilets covered in trash bags, calling the building unfit for its high school population. Kristin Haynes said she was “incredibly disappointed when that flawed Capital Improvement Program” passed with no mention of FCHS and the state of the facilities for those students with physical disabilities.
“These disabled children are already dealing with life circumstances most of us cannot fully fathom,” Haynes said, adding that students are parked in aisles of auditoriums and unable to attend after-school games because of locked handicap accessible bathrooms.
The School Board will vote on the advertised budget on Thursday, Feb. 9. For a full calendar of the budget, click here.