The Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) budget will be cut again soon to handle a projected $100 million to $200 million shortfall in 2010-2011. That’s a two followed by eight zeros, and that’s a big number. It comes to more than $1,000 per student for every student in the system. It is just not possible for cuts of this magnitude to be made for the second year in a row without there being a substantial impact on every student in our system. This is especially true when as much as 85 percent of the system’s budget is labor related. How can the FCPS cut $200 million in salaries and not impact the classroom? It can’t. It’s simply not possible. In fact, one possible cut would have an immediate and direct effect on Hayfield Secondary and on every high school in the FCPS – elimination of the Career Centers. Not a reduction in staffing – outright elimination.
These cuts are on top of the huge cuts made to handle this year’s shortfall and will exacerbate the impacts we’re already feeling. Are you scared yet? You should be. I’m not saying that there aren’t places in our schools where we could save some money. There are. But these are few, and the savings that could be realized are small. The easy cuts were made last year. There aren’t any easy cuts left. The FCPS web site has information about the coming budget cuts. Visit it http://www.fcps.edu/news/fy2011.htm and read the dire news yourself.
You should get involved and tell the School Board what you think about this situation. Are there things like our Career Center that you don’t want cut? Tell them. Are there areas where you feel cuts could or should be made? Tell them. Do you believe the Board of Supervisors should give the schools more money, either with a larger piece of total County budget or by raising taxes to increase County revenues? Or perhaps both? Tell the School Board, and tell the Board of Supervisors, too.
The FCPS and the Fairfax County government are holding a series of budget community dialogues in October and early November to let us tell our school leaders our school priorities (details at http://www.fcps.edu/news/fy2011/community.pdf). You may wish to attend one, learn more facts and join in the discussions.
Whether or not you attend one of those dialogues you should plan on speaking directly to the School Board. They offer everyone the chance to make statements to them before every formal meeting, and also when they hold public hearings. Visit their web site to learn how to sign up to speak with the School Board (http://www.fcps.edu/schlbd/requestspeak.htm).
If you do speak to the Board – and you should, you really should – here are a few tried and true points to keep in mind. Don’t insult them or chastise them or yell at them or speak down to them. They care about our schools and are sincerely trying to do their best. And making them angry isn’t the best way to influence their decisions. They do care, they really do. Keep your message simple and remember the key to a successful presentation: tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them. That’s not easy in a three-minute presentation (enough time to say about 400 to 500 words, or about two typed pages), but it’s critical. Your written statement can be longer – and they want 20 copies of your written statement when you speak – just say only your most important points. It’s not quantity that works; it’s quality. Speak to what’s most important and let them read the rest. And don’t rush through your statement. Your words will be garbled, they won’t follow you and your time will have been wasted. It’s always a good idea to practice reading your statement once or twice out loud, holding yourself to three minutes. This will give you the best idea of how much you can say in that time. Most of us read to ourselves faster than we speak. Don’t be fooled in to thinking you can fit more into three minutes than you can. And you must stay within the three-minute time limit or you will be cut off. You don’t want to get cut off before you tell them your most important points for the third time (ONE – tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em; TWO – tell ‘em; THREE – tell ‘em what you told them)!
Finally, contact your School Board members via email and make the same points to them. It doesn’t hurt to do so three times, with the emails spaced roughly a month apart. You have four School Board members; one for your District (Brad Center if you live in Lee District, Dan Storck if you live in the Mount Vernon District) and three At-Large members (Hone, Moon and Raney). You might also contact the Chairman (Smith) and Vice Chairman (Wilson), though they will be swamped by emails and may not read all of them. You can get email addresses at Board’s web site (http://www.fcps.edu/schlbd/members.htm). I would not simply send your statement from the public hearing. That’s too long for an email. If you have the time, wrap your most important points (the ones you’ll speak to in your three-minute statement) in slightly different wording. But make those same points in all three emails. Your emails should be brief – they will get hundreds if not thousands and will appreciate the brevity – simply repeat your most important points and ask that they be considered.
Again, I strongly urge you to tell the School Board what you want them to do with the budget. They want our guidance, they truly do. Give them yours.
Hayfield Secondary PTSA President