With the growing deficit, board members of Fairfax County Public Schools have had to reevaluate where they allocate their funds.

Hallie O'Rourke, Assistant Academics Editor

During the various snowstorms this past winter, students from all over the county advocated #closeFCPS on Twitter and other social media sites. This hashtag trended worldwide only months ago, but another FCPS hashtag, #saveFCPS, is failing to gain similar recognition.

Superintendent Karen Garza recently posted an update on the FCPS website about the budget problems that Fairfax County Public Schools are facing. She also communicated these issues to members of the community through an e-mail newsletter. These economic problems arose in part because of poor planning on behalf of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who plan the budget on a yearly basis.

“I think that the problem with the previous leadership is that they didn’t do a three-year budget,” Director of Student Services Robyn Lady said. “Dr. Garza is more forward thinking and is looking to maintain a three-year budget.”

Many issues have been found with the current budget, with the projected deficit for this year being around $7.6 million. One of the biggest concerns that Dr. Garza has is that there is an over a $100 million deficit projected for the 2016-2017 school year.

“We’re going to survive right now; it’s going to be hard, but we’re going to survive going into next year,” Lady said. “It’s the next year [after that] where it is of critical importance that the board of supervisors gives the school system more money because of the size of the projected deficit.”

Dr. Garza is brainstorming many possible ideas to alleviate this deficit and what appears to be one of the best options at this point would be to move high school days to a six-period day instead of a seven-period day. Although this would be very effective in getting the county out of debt, it would have devastating effects on the student body, as cuts to elective programs would also take place and students would have less options of classes that they could take.

“I worry about going to a six-period day because if we go to a six-period day, that will cut down on the number of electives, which means we would lose elective teachers,” Principal Teresa Johnson said.

Elective cuts in the county could also mean that the Chantilly Academy could be in jeopardy.

“[I think the Academy could be in danger. They] get different funds, but again it’s an elective, and it’s driven by student enrollment,” Johnson said. “If students only have six classes, and still have to worry about a travel period, a lot of kids may not take Academy classes since they can’t afford to travel. That would be harsh not to have all of our great programs there.”

In addition to elective programs, sports and other extracurriculars could be cut from the budget as well.

“I do worry about some cuts to the athletic program, because I think our athletic program provides a great outlet and great motivation for our students, and they learn so much from extracurricular activities,” Johnson said.

Another financial problem in the county is the pay increase for teachers. This year many teachers and administrators were expecting a pay raise, especially a cost of living adjustment; however, they didn’t get exactly what they were expecting.

“We’re looking at an increase [in pay] of about .62 percent. It’s definitely something that’s been frustrating for a lot of people,” Assistant Principal Mike Astudillo said. “A lot of teachers expect that we would have a set increase and some kind of cost of living adjustment that would be comparable to the business world or to other occupations, but it’s been rough lately.”

These budget cuts and the small increase in pay can be very frustrating for teachers and administrators.

“Teachers need to be compensated for the value of their work,” Astudillo said. “Fairfax County is one of the best school systems in the country, our teachers should be paid like that.”

Teachers are a critical part of students’ success. With no acceptable increase in pay, and neighboring counties offering competitive salaries, it is very likely that teachers will begin to leave. This will affect the lives of all of the students.

“It might not seem like a big deal on the short term basis, but down the road it’s a big deal. Fairfax County is one of the best because of the good teachers,” Astudillo said. “If you don’t have the teachers that motivate and inspire kids to do their best, then it doesn’t matter.”

All of these drastic measures to get FCPS out of debt can seem very scary to students and families living in the county. Although it may seem like we are helpless, we do have some say in what happens in our own community.

“Parents, students, everyone needs to start e-mailing their school board representative like crazy,” Astudillo said. “Be familiar with who that person is, be in constant communication with them. Be in communication with the board of supervisors, reach out to them. Tell them stories of success and how great the classes are, let them know that we don’t want that to go by the wayside.”

There is definitely strength in numbers. In order to make a lasting change, families, teachers and administrators can join together to protect and advocate for the change they want to see.

“I think if a collective group of us get together and do something about it, even just in our presence at meetings, in our visibility, [we can make an impact],” Astudillo said. “If we show up to these meetings and show that it’s an actual concern, that we’re going to do something about it, I think collectively we could make a difference.”