The lead-in for the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Proposed FY 2018 Budget states the following: “The FCPS FY 2018 (2017-18 school year) budget reflects the school system's priorities. It's also a communications tool that informs parents, staff members, students, and community members about our values and goals.“
If that is true, then why is FCPS proposing to balance its FY18 budget by increasing class sizes by 0.5 students in all elementary, middle and high schools?
Large class sizes have a negative impact on students’ ability to learn and succeed, and on teachers’ ability to teach. Large classes burn out good teachers and affect teacher decisions about whether to continue working at a school. Every time a good teacher leaves the employ of FCPS, we forfeit our investment in hiring and training that person.
In many recent meetings about teacher compensation, the School Board has expressed concerns about teacher attrition. In FCPS, we lose about 40 percent of our teachers in their first five years of employment, and we lose many more teachers after their fifth year. Class size is cited — both in FCPS and in a national study — as a top factor in teachers’ decisions to leave the school district.
At this critical time when we already suffer from teacher shortages and large class sizes, FCPS should not be considering additional class size increases as a means to save $14.7 million. There are alternatives that could better address the FY18 budget gap. Some alternatives actually reduce expenses. Others just change budget assumptions.
For example, the School Board could cut $15 million of other expenses with the understanding that in July, it would use the "found money" from the year-end FY 2017 budget review to restore those programs. This is exactly what the board did about six years ago, when Jack Dale was the FCPS superintendent.
Alternatively, FCPS could find $14.7 million by using more realistic assumptions about employee attrition. Every year, FCPS prepares its budget using unrealistically low attrition assumptions, which in turn consistently produce about $30 million/year of "found money" from higher-than-projected teacher attrition during the budget reviews.
Of course, if FCPS made a sustained commitment to reasonable class sizes, it could arguably avoid increasing the costs associated with that teacher attrition. Imagine the cost savings from retaining our teachers. What additional innovations could be used to reduce the expense of endlessly restaffing our classrooms and training a new workforce?
The FCPS Strategic Plan, “Ignite,” affirms its commitment to student success and a caring culture. Seeing “Ignite” in action would mean that our School Board representatives resolve the FCPS financial shortfall without again balancing its budget on the backs of our teachers and students.
Class Size Counts created an online petition asking the School Board not to increase elementary, middle and high school class sizes by 0.5 students across the board as part of the FY 2018 budget. Please sign the petition at https://www.change.org/p/fairfax-county-public-schools-join-class-size-counts-to-oppose-the-core-academic-class-sizes-in-fcps and join in the advocacy.
Mollie Regan is a Vienna resident and a Class Size Matters advocate.