County Budget: Schools, Housing, Arts Among Public Hearing Topics
First two days of public hearings bring more than 100 people to Government Center.
Editor's Note: Patch has been live blogging the budget public hearings this week. Read full coverage from Tuesday and Wednesday for details about each speaker and their comments. Thursday's live blog will start at 3 p.m., so come back to this site to follow along.
School funding, affordable housing and support for the arts were among the issues Fairfax County residents and employees brought before the Board of Supervisors this week during public hearings on the Fiscal Year 2013 budget.
After eight combined hours and more than 100 speakers, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is through two of this week’s three public hearings.
The hearings began with a Fairfax County School Board presentation on Tuesday night. School Board Chairman Janie Strauss and superintendent Jack Dale advocated for a higher increase in the budget transfer to Fairfax County Public Schools.
Outgoing County Executive Anthony Griffin has recommended a 4.5 percent increase in the county’s transfer to the school system’s $2.4 billion FY2013 budget. But Strauss said a 5 percent increase – an additional .5 percent – is necessary because of changes to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) in the pending state budget.
The changes will require FCPS employees who participate in VRS to make a 5 percent contribution, one that is currently made by the school system. The state is therefore requiring school systems to increase salaries by 5 percent to cover the contribution.
Strauss said the policy will add an additional $15 million to the FCPS budget, and without a 5 percent transfer increase, programs for underserved students and compensation could be in danger.
“We are fairly certain that we won’t be able to fund … critical academic programs and we won’t be able to give our employees the compensation increase contained in our budget,” she said.
Representatives for the Coalition of Silence, a group that advocates for improved education outcomes for minority students, were among the 42 people scheduled to speak Tuesday. They voiced their support for the 5 percent transfer increase that could help jump start programs during the summer.
Coalition representative Tina Hone read off a number student achievement statistics from the 2010-2011 Student Achievement Goal Report that she deemed disturbing.
Of 12th graders passing a math course beyond algebra, an indicator of college readiness, 82 percent were Asian; 80 percent were white; 46 percent were black; 44 percent were Hispanic; 44 percent were poor; and 26 percent were special education students.
“It is your right and your duty, as trustees of the taxpayer’s purse, to expect that a $2.4 billion investment results in a school system that is excellent for every student,” she said to the board. “Sadly, that is not the case today.”
Affordable housing in Fairfax County was one of the main topics during Wednesday afternoon’s five-hour hearing.
The board heard testimony from more than 65 people, some of whom spoke on behalf of the South County Leadership Council, which represents organizations that assist the homeless and families in poverty. Speakers from the council urged the county board to make greater investments in the county’s housing blueprint.
The proposed FY2013 includes cuts to funding that would go towards rental subsidies, adult dental coverage and other programs.
Michael O'Reilly, chair of the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, asked the board for additional funding so that his office could hit its 10-year goal of 2,650 new affordable housing units by 2018. He also requested $2.6 million for rental subsidies to combat homelessness.
Police and Other Employee Compensation
County government and public service employees also appeared before the board to demand they be fairly compensated.
Fairfax County Police Officer Chris Cochrane, president of the Local 5000 Fairfax County Police Union, said the department was in an uneven partnership with the county board.
“After three years of no merit increases and longevity steps, we have been a good partner,” Cochrane said. “Now it’s your turn.”
He said officers were more displeased with the lack of fair compensation than the board of supervisors probably realized.
“Officers are discontent, confused, annoyed and angry,” Cochrane said. “[Without merit increases and steps] you will be telling the officers that you take them for granted. That is not a good message to send.”
The board requested their staff look into the matter.
A Reprieve for the Arts
Representatives from the Arts Council of Fairfax County offered a reprieve from talks of cash to thank the county for its continued support of arts programs despite the need for belt-tightening.
Linda Sullivan, president of the council, said that she was looking forward to coordinating a County Master Arts Plan, making them more accessible to everyone in the county.
There were arts demonstrations, including a flutist, ballerinas in costume, a chamber singer rendition of The Beatles’ “Obladi, Oblada,” and a student performance of a scene from William Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”