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Fairfax County School Board outlines its key priorities for the upcoming budget

A Fairfax County Public Schools bus parked at Vienna Elementary School (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Teacher recruitment, school safety and controlling class sizes have been designated as top priorities for funding by the newly sworn-in Fairfax County School Board.

However, the county’s expected financial constraints may make it challenging for the board’s entire wish list to get funded in the upcoming budget cycle, which will start July 1.

Last week, the school board approved a resolution to serve as a guide for Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid as she crafts the school system’s proposed fiscal year 2025 budget.

The resolution highlights improving teacher compensation, particularly for special education and Title 1 schools, as a key priority. Board members also stressed the importance of increasing access to universal breakfast and lunch programs, reducing school meal debt, expanding preschool options, lowering class sizes, and providing additional funding for mental health and academic support.

While some of those priorities are broad in scope, Mason District School Board Representative Ricardy Anderson noted the board has been discussing these issues with the superintendent and her staff in both public and private meetings for months.

“This is not a surprise,” she said. “They have been part of these conversations, and they understand what the board finds important.”

Aside from Anderson, Braddock District Representative Rachna Sizemore Heizer, and Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie Meren, who supported the resolution, most school board members are newcomers who were not part of the initial discussions on the board’s budget priorities last year.

Despite that, Anderson noted that the new members — all elected in November with Democratic endorsements — have shown strong support for many of the same issues as the previous board, which was similarly all Democratic.

“There was a lot of overlap with what the former board found important and with what the new board finds important,” she said.

Still, there is the hurdle of getting the county on board.

Fairfax County staff told the school board and the Board of Supervisors at a joint meeting last November to prepare for a tough budget year, forecasting a $284.5 million shortfall mainly due to a “flat real estate market,” according to the county website.

At a Nov. 14 school board work session, FCPS Chief Financial Officer Leigh Burden predicted a $202.6 million gap in the revenue needed to fund a 6% salary increase for all FCPS employees, address rising student service demands, and cover inflationary costs.

FCPS has a total operating budget for the current fiscal year of $3.5 billion — a $221.7 million increase from the previous cycle.

The superintendent is set to present her budget proposal to the school board next Tuesday, Feb. 6. How her office will address the revenue gap and incorporate the school board’s priorities into the proposal remains unclear.

However, Anderson said she doesn’t anticipate the school board’s entire wish list will be fulfilled.

“They’re big ticket items, and there’s only so much you can do in any given year,” she said.

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