Bulova: Fully funding schools’ request would take tax hike

FAIRFAX, Va. — Fully funding the $2.67 billion Fairfax County Public Schools budget could require a significant property tax hike, the county Board of Supervisors chair says.

“Fully funding the school request would actually probably require a tax rate increase of about probably six or seven cents, which would be a hefty increase for taxpayers. We’re going to do the best we can. Education is our most important priority in Fairfax County,” Chair Sharon Bulova said in an interview.

The budget proposed more than a week ago by schools Superintendent Karen Garza makes no significant cuts, and would fund raises for staff and pay for more than 100 new elementary school teachers.

But it requests a 6.7 percent increase in direct county funding, more than double the 3 percent the Board of Supervisors told the school system to expect.

In an interview following the announcement, Garza said it “would be irresponsible and a real shame” if the Board of Supervisors does not seriously consider the proposal throughout the next few weeks and months of the budget process.

The school system says there have been cuts the last several years, even as the overall budget has grown. The system says the increased spending is tied to salaries, retirement and benefits, which has led to cuts in other areas.

Supervisor Pat Herrity calls the argument from school leaders “political theater.”

“When the superintendent says we’ve cut the budget for nine straight yeas, and in fact the budget’s gone from $2.1 billion to $2.6 billion, an almost 25 percent increase, that’s just a little bit political theater. This has been happening since I was in high school, where the schools claim they’re failing, there’s not enough money,” he says in an interview.

“We have issues with our schools, we need to address those issues, but our schools aren’t falling through the center of the Earth,” he adds.

Bulova and Herrity both hope the state approves more education funding this year as proposed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Although overall education funding increases are also supported by the Republican majority in the General Assembly, it is not clear how much money would actually flow into specific school systems.

“It’s a matter, I guess, of in the state, prioritization of what’s important in the state, I know that sometimes there are decisions that are made as far as maybe reducing taxes for corporations or something like that, and is that really the wisest choice? Or should that revenue go to the schools,” Bulova says.

A number of groups in Fairfax County have rallied around a call for “fully funding” the school system.

While one of those groups defines that as providing money for robust programs, reduced class sizes and increased teacher salaries, Herrity says others have not been as specific.

“I’d like to know what fully funding the schools means. Does it mean fully funding your wants? Does it mean fully funding your needs? Or does it mean being somewhere in between? And that’s really what the budget process is all about,” he says.

The county will have to strike a balance between any potential tax rate increase or cuts to other services and the school budget request.

“We are responsible to our taxpayers, and we need to look at that balance between what the school system wants versus what they need, and what the county budget needs are,” Herrity says.

Other sources close to the Board of Supervisors have told WTOP that the county is unlikely to provide the significant funding increase requested by the school system.

The county is scheduled to announce the maximum potential tax rate for the coming year in March, with a vote on the actual rate in the spring.

“In the end, we’ll come down to a number that will help keep our school system the best in the country,” Herrity says.

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