Fairfax County Public Schools will spend $2.4 billion this year to educate 181,500 students, of which $1.68 billion -- or 70 percent -- comes right from the pockets of county taxpayers. Most of it will be spent on staff salaries, benefits and cost-of-living increases. But according to school officials, who already spend half of all county revenue, it's still not enough.
As The Examiner's Lisa Gartner reports, FCPS wants a 9 percent increase in the county transfer next year to close a $150 million budget gap -- the largest in recent memory. Given Fairfax County's own looming $100 million deficit, it's not very realistic.
In the past, FCPS officials have threatened to cut popular athletic and music programs to secure an ever-increasing share of county revenue. But such borderline blackmail won't work this time.
Financially savvy FCPS parents and taxpayers have identified a number of highly questionable expenditures, including a $10 million "staffing reserve" for which FCPS has "no historical record," as Superintendent Jack Dale admitted in an email exchange obtained by The Examiner.
At the Fairfax School Board's May 15th budget hearing, citizens testified about the lack of competitive bidding and conflicts of interest as FCPS awarded contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to private education consultants. In some cases, contracts to the same vendor were split in order to remain under the $50,000 threshold required for School Board review.
In one egregious example, confirmed by emails released under the Freedom of Information Act, the president of Arcasun LLC was paid $11,000 by the campaign of then-School Board Chairwoman Jane Strauss last November. She was then awarded a $35,000 contract the following January, even though she did not have a county business license. The businesswoman, Shaista Keating, also wrote the same Request For Proposals that she successfully bid on and failed to disclose that she was in contract negotiations with FCPS while acting as a "parent representative" during the school system's FY13 budget hearings.
"When vendors start writing their own statements of work, sitting in on FCPS budget discussions when they are negotiating contracts with FCPS, and when over 50 staff are doing their best to circumvent the rules, we have a problem," a concerned citizen noted in a recent letter to Fairfax supervisors.
FCPS indeed has a problem, and it's not a lack of money.