FAIRFAX, Va. — From school funding to road construction and courts to health and child care, more than 100 people signed up to make their pleas for action Saturday morning to the Fairfax County General Assembly delegation.
After a $2.67 billion budget proposal from Fairfax County Public Schools was released Thursday, Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova told the delegation that the county government’s top priority in the upcoming session is education funding from the state.
The 21 members of the House of Delegates and State Senate at Saturday’s public hearing will join their colleagues in Richmond on Wednesday to begin the 60-day session that is expected to be dominated by discussions related to the two-year state budget.
While Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposal for the next two years includes some funding increases for K-12 education, it also includes a proposal to expand Medicaid, which has been repeatedly rejected by the Republican majority in the General Assembly.
Members of the Fairfax Bar Association asked the delegation to ensure judges are elected to fill open seats on the bench that are slowing the court system in the county, including a replacement for Jane Marum Roush on the Circuit Court, after she was elevated to the Supreme Court of Virginia.
McAuliffe used a recess appointment to bring Roush to Richmond this summer, but Republican leaders in the General Assembly said, before a special session in August, that they would choose a different judge, Rossie Alston of Virginia’s second-highest court.
After no judge was elected in the special session, McAuliffe reappointed Roush. GOP leaders have said they will not interview Roush for the permanent job, and the election of judges in Virginia is left solely to the General Assembly when it is in session.
Jay Meyerson, past president of the Fairfax Bar Association, told the delegation that Roush is supremely qualified, and he urged the delegation to do everything it can to get her elected to a full term.
In addition to courts, schools and Medicaid expansion, speakers asked the General Assembly delegation to address mental health care, the cost of childcare and assistance for needy families.
One large group of speakers asked for fewer standardized tests and more creative opportunities in schools.
Del. Marcus Simon even recognized his old physics teacher who wanted more flexibility in teaching. He says he still remembers getting on roller skates during class and pushing against a classmate to demonstrate every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Several parents, including the president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs asked the county delegation at the hearing to help “fully fund” the proposed school budget.
“FCPS needs more than 15.1 percent funding from the state,” says Debbie Kilpatrick. She says teachers need to get the raises in the proposed budget to ensure that the best teachers come to and remain in the system.
School Board Chair Pat Hynes argues that Virginia should not remain in the bottom states for state education funding as Virginia stays in the top 10 states for average income.
The school system has launched a campaign to “#SaveFCPS,” and a separate group advocating for more school funding calls itself “IamFCPS.”
“Enough is enough,” Suzanne Zurn told the delegation.
Zurn says fully funding schools would mean robust programs, class sizes and competitive teacher salary.
While the total school system budget has continued to grow, the school system and the IamFCPS group says the budget has faced cuts each year since 2009.
The cuts described are reductions in some parts of the budget like retirement, health care and other compensation continued to grow.
The school budget request for 2016-2017 would include a transfer 6.7 percent higher than the current school year, more than double the increase the Board of Supervisors told the school system to expect.
It includes step increases, 1 percent raises for staff and plans to hire more teachers to reduce elementary school class sizes below 30 per teacher.
Fairfax County Public Schools is not only the largest school system in Virginia and in the Washington, D.C. area, but it is also among the top five largest single employers in the Commonwealth of Virginia.