Local: Education

Survey: Half of parents confident in Fairfax schools budget

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Photo - Students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax. (Examiner file photo)
Students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax. (Examiner file photo)
Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

Only half of Fairfax County Public Schools parents believe the school system is managing its budget responsibly, as the school system faces a large shortfall for next year, according to a new survey.

According to the "Trust and Confidence Survey," 52 percent of Fairfax County parents say they support the school board's handling of their finances, while 18 percent say they did not, and 31 percent say they simply don't have enough information to judge.

Among taxpayers who do not have children in the public school system, 38 percent have faith in the schools' budgeting, 18 percent do not, and 45 percent say they need more details from the school board.

Both parents and nonparents were less likely to express confidence in the school system's budgeting than in 2011, the first year the survey was administered. Nearly 5,500 parents and 6,300 nonparent taxpayers responded to the survey.

Superintendent Jack Dale said the results "revealed that we need to continue to build public trust by enhancing our two-way communications with our stakeholders. We learned that many stakeholders, especially our taxpayers who don't have children in FCPS, feel they don't have enough information to make an assessment on critical areas like the budget ... and those are areas on which we plan to concentrate."

In September, the school board learned it was facing a $147.9 million shortfall for fiscal 2014. Although the school system typically begins the budget season in the red, this was the largest budget hole that even senior board members could remember.

At a recent work session, the school board decided to freeze teachers' annual salaries but offer them 1 percent raises to account for inflation, bringing the shortfall closer to $100 million. The school board is evaluating other cost-saving measures, even reopening the current year's books to scour for savings.

"Some people just think that with the budget, FCPS is not as transparent as it should be," said Beth Tudan, the parent of three children in elementary, middle and high school. "The administration says we've really cut back, but some people say there really needs to be an audit that goes line by line of what the board is spending money on."

In September, Providence District School Board Member Patty Reed said she wanted to explore hiring an independent auditor for the board. "Shame on us for not having someone who has this function," she said.

The conversation was tabled as the school board's agenda that day was full; further conversation is not on the schedule for the board's upcoming meetings.

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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