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Innovation to Fix Delays in School Renovation

School Board Matters, February 8, 2024 meeting

School Board Matters written on a Blackboard with school supplies

School Board meetings are ground zero for the culture wars. Our “School Board Matters” blog will include analysis and links to video, agenda, and votes that affect you and your student(s), including links to primary source documents to support involvement in your student’s experience and education. 

We hope this will provide better access to and understanding of the Fairfax County School Board, including their powers and duties, as governed by the Code of Virginia. Although this blog will primarily focus on Fairfax County, we will share school board meeting reports from around the state, when possible. 

 

Before we get into last week’s meeting, please note that the Fairfax County School Board has been busy since then with additional meetings, which I’m very sorry that I missed!

Before the meeting, about 15-20 students from the Pride Liberation Project (@PrideLiberation on Instagram and Twitter) held a rally against book bans and in support of libraries and books that represent all students.

Photo of students from the Pride Liberation Project

The 2/8/23 Fairfax County School Board (FCSB) meeting began with a lovely performance of the National Anthem by Rachel Carson Middle School Bella Voce and Lift Every Voice and Sing by the Mount Vernon Voices. We all felt the power of these two groups.

Dr. Ricardy Anderson (Mason District) read the proclamation honoring Black History Month, focusing first on Carter G. Woodson’s accomplishments as the father of Black History Month, reminding the crowd that W.T. Woodson will be renamed in his honor next year. Dr. Anderson focused on the trials and triumphs of African Americans over the last four centuries, including dismantling Jim Crow segregation in the South and contributions to the history, society, and arts of this nation, with specific contributions to the rich and vibrant culture of Fairfax County, including through the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation and the Gum Springs community. She reminded us that we need to name and intentionally dismantle the structures that oppress and inhibit accomplishments and contributions of our citizens. 

Students buying lunch in a school cafeteria

Ms. Sandy Anderson (Springfield District) read the Custodians and Food Nutrition Services Appreciation proclamation honoring FCPS’s custodians, field custodians, and building supervisors “who are responsible for the daily care and safe operation of all facilities and buildings on a year-round basis.” She detailed the training and certifications attained by these workers who “nurture and nourish” our students. (sniff!) 

Public Input

Public input was once again dominated by regular Fairfax County citizens who care about improving safety, education, and inclusion which is a nice contrast to the past couple of years:

Pride Liberation Project logo
  • A student leader of the Pride Liberation Project (@PrideLiberation on Instagram and Twitter) spoke of the need to protect FCPS libraries and classrooms from book bans. Schools can’t teach empathy and emotions, which can only be found in books. Through books, we learn about other cultures and experiences. Through reading books, she was able to find herself, as a queer Asian woman; however, most of the books bans are about queer characters and by queer authors. (I look forward to hearing more from her this year!)

  • A number of teachers spoke to critical funding needs for:

  • ACE teachers asked for continued investment in student success through adult programming that enables adult students to develop new skills and learn English.

  • A staff member spoke against a policy that harms teacher pay rates due to inequitable salary proration in some months which means that the prorated costs of leave disproportionately places some staff (e.g., disabled) at risk.

  • Dave Walrod of the local teachers’ alliance sounded the alarm about the shortage of special education teachers. He shared that one of three special education teachers are not fully certified. Burnout is pushing teachers out of the profession around the country. 

  • A parent referred to the dilapidated and unsafe state of Luther Jackson Middle School where the School Board meeting is held. The school campus is open and exposed to traffic while the narrow hallways and mold endanger the students inside, yet Luther Jackson is continually passed over in the queue for full renovation despite being built in 1954, as the first Black high school in Fairfax County.


School Board Business

Student Representative Matters: Ms. Karim shared actions and meetings from the past weeks. The SEALS have come up w/the idea of a student advisory council to the school board. She hosted a Town Hall bringing students together from Region 2 and 3 where students raised dietary needs, meal debt issues, and the need for more safety drills.

FY 2025-2029 Capital Improvement Program (CIP): Holy cow! This was an exciting and complicated discussion. Check out the agenda for more details, but it started with a motion from Mr. Ryan McElveen shared a mother’s testimony from 1950 for the first FCPS School Bond. However, 70 years later, years of failed leadership have forced our schools to "economize" which works for no one.

The first school bond in FCPS history enabled FCPS to accommodate post world war II growth. Mr. McElveen shares that we have more than 10 times the trailers than we did in the 1950 when the biggest building spree. The number of FCPS students in trailers equals the number of students in Arlington County or Richmond City. Amendments were added and voted upon:

  • Dr. Anderson (seconded by Mr. Ilryong Moon, At-Large) asked to amend the CIP Parklawn Elementary School to Priority Recommended Boundary Adjustments to adjust for huge, rapid increases in enrollment. Vote: 9 Yes, and 3 Abstaining (Ms. Seema Dixit, Ms. Anderson, Ms. Rachna Sizemore Heizer)

  • Ms. Robyn Lady, Dranesville District (seconded by Mr. Kyle McDaniel, At-Large), asked to amend CIP to add Coates Elementary School to Priority Recommended Boundary Adjustments due to  Vote: 9 Yes, and 3 Abstaining (Ms. Seema Dixit, Ms. Anderson, Ms. Rachna Sizemore Heizer)

Most of the school board members expressed frustration, concern, and alarm at the increase of the construction queue from 37 to 42 years, the need for long-term fixes, the decades of underfunding and poor management, and the impact of community advocacy that sometimes results in inequitable allocation of resources. As Mr. Karl Frisch (Providence District) said, the system is “irreparably broken” and he decried the need for boundary adjustments when there are so many students who need relief for overcrowding. 

It seemed that the entire school board agreed that they need to avoid boundary adjustments in the future due to impacts on the community and the creation of “school islands.” Subsequently, three school board members abstained from voting on the amendments.


Based on the discussions, Ms. Melanie Meren (Hunter Mill District) proposed two critical and innovative amendments to the CIP (seconded by Dr. Anderson and Ms. Sizemore Heizer, respectively) that were unanimously accepted:

  1. The Superintendent will present to the School Board by April 25, 2024, options to fund capital projects that maximize current funds, identify new fund sources, and obtain cost efficiencies including the evaluation of public/private partnership opportunities, an analysis on the use of  “swing spaces” during school renovations to decrease project time, and local revenue-generating options available under Virginia law though not currently used in Fairfax.

  2. Directing the Superintendent to transmit to the School Board by April 25, 2024, a plan to create a facility infrastructure policy for FCPS, including a summary findings from a review of relevant FCPS policies and corresponding regulations

  

Facts about FCPS: largest Virginia school division with 199 schools and centers

FY 2025 Proposed Budget: Dr. Reid began by thanking the FCPS staff who worked countless hours on the budget, “The budget is the engine from which all of the work is derived.”

Comparison of $301 million adjustment vis-a-vis Strategic Plan

Her FY2025 Proposed Budget presentation was high level and shared great information about the school system, how $220 million of the budget is invested in our workforce, and why the budget includes a $301 million increase (hint: the increase is primarily for staff compensation!). She included a calendar of future discussions, which every parent, teacher, and citizen should look at, particularly: Board of Supervisors Public Hearings in mid-April and School Board Hearing in mid-May.

FY 2025 Budget Calendar for Public Input

Listen to the dynamic discussion and dozens of questions from the school board members after the presentation.

Academic Matters: Dr. Reid gave a presentation focusing on School Counseling, in honor of National School Counseling Week (Feb 5-9, 2024). 

  • Ms. Sizemore Heizer (Braddock District) lifted up thanks to school counselors for their social-emotional support of students and she shared concerns about the adequacy of the counselor to student ratio and how we are supporting counselors. 

  • Dr. Anderson asked about other burdens on the counselor's schedule–Dr. Presidio answered that for counselors and other specialists, they may be placed on the Master Schedule to deliver lessons for up to 10 hours per week–Dr. Anderson said that she has heard how counselors are not available for students due to this (I have also heard that this distracts from the ability of counselors to address student needs when they are deployed to pinch hit and teach classes instead of working with students). 

  • Ms. Lady, a former school counselor, echoes concerns about the burdens on counselors and cites the worries about the ratio of social workers to students which forces counselors to do social work. 

  • Mr. Mateo Dunne (Mt. Vernon District) asked if state support staff limitations are affecting our ability to hire more counselors–Dr. Reid said that the state does not fund, but Fairfax has chosen to allocate funds toward increasing the number of counselors–Mr. Dunne advised that FCPS looks to the nationally recommended ratios, which might require doubling the numbers that we currently have.

  • Ms. Seema Dixit (Sully District) has found that counselors are overburdened and unable to provide the career and college advising that is needed.

Superintendent Matters: Dr. Reid spoke about recent events.

Board Matters: School Board members shared important news about their districts.

This was the third general meeting of the School Board elected in 2024–it adjourned at approximately 10:40 pm. 


Collaboration and innovation were on display tonight!



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