Fairfax County faces bitter school budget battle

WASHINGTON — It was a bruising budget battle this year in Fairfax County.  But next year it will be even worse.  The county Board of Supervisors had clashed with the school board over funding as the county faces hard financial times.

But the two sides are vowing to work together as they face the next big school budget shortfall of a little less than $100 million in fiscal year 2017.

“It’s going to be a challenge for the schools as well as for the county,” says Sharon Bulova, Board of Supervisors chair.

Since the recession revenue just isn’t coming into the county like it used to do, she says.

“And that translates into a vastly reduced stream of revenue that we used to provide the level of services that people have come to appreciate, rely upon and value,” says Bulova.

The county needs better funding from the state since the county does not get its fair share because of flawed state funding formulas, according to her.

“The funding formulas just don’t recognize the difficult diversity we have within our school system,” Bulova says, adding it’s important that they not fight against each other.

“That we’re working together with each other, the school board and the Board of Supervisors,” says Bulova. Especially when they head to Richmond “to try to improve our lot with state funding.”

Bulova says they can’t keep going back to the well and keep increasing real estate taxes on residents especially since only 30 percent of residents have children in the school system and other residents are on a fixed income.

Northern Virginia Delegate Vivian Watts, D-39th, says the county relies mainly on real estate taxes because unlike cities in the state, the county can’t impose taxes on things like meals, cigarettes and lodging.

“We really need an urban tax base and or have the school funding formula reflect the actual tax base that we have.  You can’t just keep on pushing only on the real estate tax,” Watts says

She adds that in her district many residents have lived in their homes 40 to 50 years and that their incomes don’t reflect the current value of their homes.

The school system is facing challenges: higher enrollment especially among students who speak limited English; and having to pay more into the retirement system, the Virginia Retirement System.

Even in the face of financial constraints, Bulova says, “Education is our community’s No. 1 priority.  Everyone has a stake in education and it’s important that we’re all working together and pulling together to try to address our respective challenges and make sure that we continue to have an excellent educational system.”

 

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