by MENA MOHAMED

Fiscal Year 2017 is likely going to be a difficult one for the FCPS community. With the current budget crisis in mind, students, parents and faculty alike are watching as the #ExcellenceAtRisk campaign begins to address uncomfortable but inevitable questions. Which programs are going to be affected? What do the budget cuts mean for students and teachers in the near future?

FCPS faces a budget deficit of over $100 million. Almost one year ago, Superintendent Karen Garza forewarned of future reductions in academic programming and increases in class sizes for the upcoming year. “The entire Fairfax County community has a critical decision to make: either we invest the necessary funds in our students and schools, or we will have to work together to decide what to cut – and we cannot cut our way to excellence.”

Today, the community is faced with these difficult choices of what programs to cut and where this can happen with the least damage possible to academic performance and reputation. According to fcps.edu, the possible reductions and eliminations vary across the county, and chip at programs and positions some consider instrumental to students.

FCPS’ Budget Task Force recommended the following cuts and reductions in August of 2015:

Classes
  • Increase class sizes in elementary, middle and high school
  • Increase student to teacher ratio in ESOL classes
  • Trimester schedule instead of quarter schedule
  • Reduce staffing positions
Sports
  • Eliminate freshman and JV teams
  • Charge $200 per student per sport played
  • Reduce number of Athletic Trainers
Parking
  • Raise parking fees for students to $300 per year
IB/MYP
  • Reduce funding for IB Diploma and MYP program
  • Charge students for registration and testing fees
Start Time
  • Revert to 7:20 start time

Among these concerns, academic programming is key and has captured the attention of students and teachers alike. The budget task force’s recommendations “included reduced funding for IB programs which would impact the Stuart community,” said Chris Powell, the Advanced Academic Programs Specialist for FCPS.

This decision could be met with apprehensiveness in the Stuart community. “Stuart is one of eight IB schools in the county. We have a flourishing IB program…that is continually growing. Talent is universal, but opportunity, many times is not. The role that the program plays in this school in particular is that gives that opportunity to our talented students and gives them an outlet to reach for their highest potential,” IB Diploma coordinator Jennifer Kresse-Rodriguez.

In addition to this, it is very possible for the budget to include reduced options for extracurriculars such as art and music in elementary and middle schools, reduced funding for language immersion programs, and limited staffing positions.   

However, there could some good news on the horizon. The School Board’s proposed budget includes two key priorities that could be pushing the county towards a better future. One, it proposes an increase in teacher salary to attempt to bridge the gap between FCPS and surrounding school districts like Arlington. Secondly, it prioritizes the need for smaller elementary school classes.

Although Garza is currently presenting another official budget proposal to the Fairfax Board of Supervisors and the budget will not be officially approved until late May, the community has already launched an effort under the slogan ‘Fund our schools’ to build up support for full funding in 2017.

At the end of the day, despite growing concerns surrounding the budget, Garza has continually celebrated the idea that even in desperate times, the community has found a way to keep the focus on the power of education.