The Fairfax County School Board voted unanimously on Thursday (Mar. 9) to give public school teachers and staff collective bargaining rights.
The resolution gives employees the right to organize and elect a union that can negotiate labor contracts, including pay, benefits and work conditions.
The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation in 2020 allowing local governments to give collective bargaining rights to public workers. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution for county employees the following year.
After more than a year of work, administrators with Fairfax County Public Schools presented a 22-page draft resolution to the school board in December.
Karl Frisch, the school board’s Providence District representative, introduced the motion during a school board meeting, saying collective bargaining will positively affect staff retention and student success.
“Everyone wins when teachers and staff have pay increases, better working conditions, reduced turnover, and workers have a seat at the decision-making table,” Frisch said.
The resolution states that the school board retains the right to determine budgets and can take necessary actions to carry out its mission during emergencies. It also guarantees workers the right “to engage in informal conversations and interactions about workplace and organizational issues while on duty” without facing coercion or intimidation.
According to Virginia law, bargaining unit members are not allowed to go on strike.
Any negotiations with budgetary or financial implications need to be initiated by Sept. 1 and agreed upon by Nov. 1 to be included in the following year’s budget.
FCPS will recognize separate bargaining units for:
- Licensed instructional staff, including full and part-time teachers, librarians and counselors
- Operational support employees, such as assistants, custodians, food service workers and bus drivers
- Administrators and supervisors, including principals and program administrators
Through a majority vote, employees in the bargaining units can select an employee association to represent them. The association, with majority support, becomes that unit’s exclusive bargaining agent after the school board certifies the election results.
Substitute teachers and temporary employees are excluded from bargaining units. However, they could request to be recognized as a unit or seek inclusion in one of the existing units after July 1, 2023.
During his remarks, Frisch highlighted what he said are the causes of recent staffing challenges faced by the school system.
“Longstanding teacher and school staff shortages are driven by low pay relative to peers in other professions with similar credentials, inadequate or uneven professional support, and challenging work conditions.”
Sully District representative Stella Pekarsky seconded the motion and said because of the vote, schools in the county will be a better place to learn and work in the coming years.
“With this vote, there should be no doubt where FCPS stands. We stand for our employees to have a voice and a seat at the table. We stand to ensure our schools can recruit and retain staff who provide a world-class education for all students,” she said.
In a release, Fairfax Education Association President Leslie Houston said passing the resolution is the first step to ensuring that FCPS employees “will have a seat at the table and not be on the menu.”
“The educators and staff in Fairfax County Public Schools will finally be able to make decisions that is best for their well-being and the well-being of their students,” Houston said.
While advocating for collective bargaining, the FEA joined forces with the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT) to form the Alliance of Fairfax Educational Unions (AFEU), which will presumably seek election to represent the new bargaining units.
According to the school system, FCPS will secure a labor relations administrator (LRA) in the next few weeks to manage the certification and election processes.
Sandy Anderson, an educator, military spouse, and mother of two, will seek to represent the Springfield District on the Fairfax County School Board.
Announcing her candidacy on Friday (Mar. 3), Anderson is the only Democrat in the race so far and faces two Republican challengers. School board elections are nonpartisan, but candidates can get endorsements from political parties.
She said her top priorities are STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) education, students with military connections, and adequate funding for education.
A Fairfax County native, Anderson has experience teaching composition and technical writing at the college level and currently works with two Department of Defense youth programs. She also serves on the board of her local parent-teacher organization, with five years as its president.
In a release announcing her decision to run, Anderson said her work and life experience qualifies her for the seat.
“My experience lends itself to this work. This is my hometown, and I am ready to serve,” she said.
Regarding her priority of adequate funding, she told FFXnow that she is specifically concerned about the state’s handling of funds and the potential push toward school vouchers and charter schools.
“As funding from the state is called into question, the Fairfax County School Board needs to be ready to justify and maximize our public tax dollars for public education,” she said.
Anderson’s campaign website highlights the future landscape of work, saying that children will undoubtedly need to embrace STEAM education to be successful.
“The Fairfax County School Board needs members that have experience making STEAM education a reality,” the site reads. In addition, Anderson said students connected to the military deserve representation from someone with similar experiences.
If elected, Anderson would fill the seat being vacated by Laura Jane Cohen, who’s running for the House of Delegates in the newly created 15th district.
“I’m excited to work with Laura Jane in this new capacity and am so grateful to have her endorsement and full support on this journey,” Anderson said.
Republican candidates Debra Tisler and Dion Dixon are two of Anderson’s challengers.
According to her campaign site, Tisler is an educator, parent, and disabilities advocate. She says she’s running to ensure the voices of parents, children, taxpayers, and teachers are heard.
“Through my work with various organizations, parents, and advocates, I’ve been instrumental in safeguarding a child’s right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education,” Tisler said.
Information on Dixon’s background and campaign priorities was not readily available.
The general election will be on Nov. 7.
(Updated at 12:55 a.m. on 3/4/2023) A Herndon resident has officially thrown his hat in for an at-large seat on the Fairfax County School Board.
Kyle McDaniel, an entrepreneur and father of two, is seeking a Democratic Party endorsement for a countywide seat on the school board, he announced Wednesday (March 1).
He says his top priority is ensuring every child lives up to their full potential.
“It’s no secret that parents, teachers, and kids struggled to weather the COVID pandemic. We have an opportunity to learn, do better, and emerge stronger,” Daniel said in his announcement. “As a parent, I understand that moms and dads across the County are frustrated. Our teachers and staff are tired. Our children are struggling. I am running to lead our schools out of a post-COVID fog, and into a bright tomorrow.”
He says that he hopes to charge his vision for FCPS over the coming months.
His campaign did not immediately address a request for comment from FFXnow. But his website states that his platform is based on several priorities, including providing safe ands secure schools, feeding hungry kids and building world case schools and educating global citizens.
“Over the coming months, I will lay out my vision for FCPS,” his announcement said. “It is one of hope, optimism, and courage. A vision where equality and excellence coexist, and school lunch debt is eliminated. We’ll bolster academics, and build a world where active shooter drills are a thing of the past. Together, we will accomplish great things.”
McDaniel graduated from George Mason University and and American University with degrees in public policy, budgeting and finance. He transitioned to the private sector with a corporate startup in 2015, following work on the state and local government levels.
The Herndon resident is also an airline transport pilot and flight instructor. He owns a flight school that has locations across the state.
The school board has three at-large seats, currently filled by board chair Rachna Sizemore-Heizer, Abrar Omeish and Karen Keys-Gamarra.
Sizemore-Heizer announced last month that she will instead seek to replace the retiring Megan McLaughlin as the board’s Braddock District representative. Omeish and Keys-Gamarra have yet to publicly share their plans for the Nov. 7 election.
All 12 school board seats will be on the ballot. So far, Providence District Representative Karl Frisch and Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie Meren are the only two incumbents to confirm they will run again for their current positions.
(Updated at 9:45 a.m. on 3/1/2023) The College Board’s much-debated course on African American identity and history will be available in several Fairfax County high schools this fall as part of a pilot program.
While the state scrutinizes the course, Fairfax County Public Schools plans to offer Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies at the following schools in the next school year, which will begin on Aug. 21:
- Chantilly HS
- Fairfax HS
- Hayfield HS
- McLean HS
- South County
- Westfield HS
- West Potomac HS
- Woodson HS
The course’s availability at each school is “pending student interest/enrollment,” FCPS says.
(Correction: FFXnow was initially told that Centreville High School would be among three schools participating in the pilot, but FCPS says the school won’t be offering the course this coming year.)
According to FCPS, the participating schools “self-selected” for the pilot “based on student and teacher interest.” Principals filled out an interest form sent out by the College Board, which launched the pilot at 60 schools last fall after spending over a decade developing the course.
“FCPS supports offering students multiple opportunities to achieve their academic goals and pursue their academic interests,” an FCPS spokesperson said. “College Board AP courses offer students the opportunity to take nationally recognized curricula with potential college credit, which is why we sought this opportunity for our students.”
A nonprofit focused on access to higher education, the College Board oversees the SAT as well as the AP Program, which provides college-level courses that high school students can take to earn college credits.
The organization released an official framework for its new African American Studies course on Feb. 1, days after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said his state rejected the course as “indoctrination” for its inclusion of LGBTQ studies, the Movement for Black Lives and other topics.
The document has drawn criticism from some educators and advocacy organizations for shifting away from subjects and texts in Florida’s complaint. The College Board has denied letting the state influence the curriculum, though it said it independently chose to remove terms like “intersectionality” that are often “misunderstood, misrepresented, and co-opted as political weapons.”
Virginia is one of four states reviewing the course. Gov. Glenn Youngkin has directed Education Secretary Aimee Rogstad Guidera to see if the course violates his executive order prohibiting “inherently divisive concepts” in public schools, spokesperson Macaulay Porter said.
The order defines divisive concepts as ideas that suggest an individual can be racist or sexist based on their identity or bears responsibility for past oppression, citing “critical race theory” as an example even though the academic theory views racism as a structural issue, rather than an individual one.
Five Fairfax County School Board members, including chair and at-large member Rachna Sizemore-Heizer, sent a letter to Youngkin and Guidera on Tuesday (Feb. 21) urging them “not to impede the teaching” of the AP course. Read More
The renovation of Crossfield Elementary School in Herndon is moving forward.
At a Fairfax County School Board meeting on Feb. 9, the board voted to award a $33.3 million contract to R.J. Crowley, Inc. for the project. The overall project is expected to cost $49 million.
A 2021 and 2019 school bond referendum will fund the project, which includes a nearly 11,600-square-foot addition and renovations of nearly 89,000 square feet of space.
New additions include an administration suite, library, classrooms, courtyard and a front entry area. Existing classrooms, art rooms, cafeteria, gym, music areas, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing areas will also be renovated.
The school is ranked 42 out of 63 schools in the FCPS renovation queue, which was developed in 2009.
According to the school system’s proposed Capital Improvement Plan for 2024-2028, the school is at 89% of its capacity utilization for the current academic year — a number that increased slightly over last year’s figure (86%) and dipped from the 2020-2021 academic year (94%).
Construction is expected to kick off sometime in the spring. The project will be completed in the spring of 2025.
The school first opened in 1988 and is named after A. Scott Crossfield, an aeronautical pioneer who lived nearby the school.
Undeveloped land in Mount Vernon near Richmond Highway that had been eyed for an elementary school is now being considered for an early childhood education center instead.
As part of its approval of the latest Capital Improvements Program (CIP) on Feb. 9, the Fairfax County School Board voted unanimously to reallocate $500,000 in bond funding to the proposed center, which will take the place of a planned Route 1/Pinewood Lakes elementary school.
The money will help Fairfax County Public Schools start planning and designing the facility earlier than previously anticipated in the spending plan, according to School Board Vice Chair Tamara Derenak Kaufax, who represents the Franconia District and proposed the amendment.
“Based on the current budget, this project would have available approximately 15,000 to 20,000 square feet for dedicated classroom use,” Derenak Kaufax said during the board meeting (at the 5:17:33 mark). “The space would allow for up to 400 pre-K, Early Head Start or preschool special education students to gain that critical, strong educational start.”
The center will be located in the Woodlawn neighborhood on 10 acres of land owned by the school board next to Buckman Road near Lakepark Drive. The board also has a smaller, adjacent site at 4300 Keswick Road, but only the larger parcel will be used, Derenak Kaufax told FFXnow.
FCPS first proposed building an elementary school to serve the northern Route 1 corridor in 2013. Voters approved a school bond referendum that November that included nearly $21.2 million for the project — funds still listed in the newly approved CIP for fiscal years 2024-2028 as “projected future project spending.”
However, after the referendum passed, the Department of Defense moved over 11,000 jobs in the area to Fort Belvoir, and FCPS got federal grant funds to build an elementary school on the military base, “alleviating the immediate capacity need” for the Route 1 school, Derenak Kaufax told the school board.
FCPS administrators wrote a report last spring recommending the site be used for a standalone pre-kindergarten center, and Superintendent Michelle Reid brought the proposal to the school board on Sept. 12.
While Fairfax County has seen a general dip in child care options during the pandemic, the need for more early childhood education capacity, particularly in the Richmond Highway corridor, was “significant” even before Covid, Mount Vernon District School Board Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders said. Read More
The Fairfax County School Board amended its new capital projects plan last week to prioritize finding solutions to overcrowding at McLean’s Kent Gardens Elementary School,
The Fairfax County Public Schools Fiscal Years 2024-2028 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) was approved unanimously last Thursday (Feb. 9) late in a five-and-a-half-hour meeting mostly spent debating new calendars for the next three school years.
“I understand that the CIP is not perfect, but there’s lots of data and information and a spending plan that we need to move forward on to continue our construction and enrollment projection work efficiently,” Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen said.
According to the CIP, which outlines the school system’s short-term capacity needs and renovation plans, Kent Gardens is currently at 121% capacity with 1,023 students. The only school with a higher capacity utilization — Wakefield Forest Elementary School — is in the midst of an expansion.
FCPS has made tweaks over the years to reduce the capacity deficit, adding temporary classrooms, rearranging the interior layout to be more efficient, and reducing the ratio of out-of-boundary students allowed in the school’s popular French immersion program from 40% to 25%.
However, staff have “exhausted ways to modify the building” and a more significant programming or boundary change is needed, said Tholen, whose district includes McLean.
The amendment, which she called “long overdue,” designates Kent Gardens as a priority for boundary or capacity adjustments, directing staff to review and identify options. The CIP previously only recommended that the school be monitored.
“I want to thank Principal [Holly] McGuigan and the Kent Garden Elementary School students, parents and community members for speaking to us over the last year on this topic,” Tholen said. “I do agree with them that dealing with the overcrowding should’ve happened long before this and I will not make any excuses for the delay.”
At-large board member Abrar Omeish noted that FCPS paused consideration of boundary adjustments in 2018 so the school board could update its policy, though no changes have been adopted even after a consultant presented a final report on Dec. 14, 2021.
“I’m excited to see when that will be coming forward, but…in the meantime, [at] Kent Gardens, the problem there has only grown, and we haven’t been able to address it, so this is an opportunity to do that,” Omeish said.
FCPS has since resumed evaluating boundary changes, implementing adjustments in the McLean and Justice high school pyramids in 2021 that are now being phased in.
The CIP also lists the Marshall High School pyramid as a priority for a boundary review in anticipation of the planned Dunn Loring Elementary School, though a potential scoping isn’t expected until 2026.
With the prioritization of Kent Gardens approved, FCPS will present an analysis and recommendations to the community sometime this year, Tholen said. The review will take into account public input that has already been shared, including at a community meeting on the capacity challenges in October.
“Community input will be sought on these options before a final decision is made,” Tholen said.
Fairfax County Public Schools is spending what amounts to two full elementary school renovations per year on unexpected increases in construction costs.
Ahead of a school board meeting on the fiscal year 2024-2028 capital improvements program (CIP) tonight (Thursday), one of the major talking points has been the dramatic impact those increases in construction costs have had on the school system’s construction and renovation plans.
At a work session last month, FCPS staff opened up about how badly the construction costs have affected the district’s reserve funding — specifically a “facilities reserve” used to help fund projects.
“At the start of 2022, that balance was $31 million,” interim assistant superintendent Chuck Fanshaw said. “The current reserve balance is at $16 million…There’s an unprecedented amount of escalation [in costs] over the last year that was anticipated by no one.”
Fanshaw said upcoming construction costs are coming in at around 30% over what had been budgeted, totaling around $28 million across four projects. There will be more specific numbers, Fanshaw said, once those projects go to bid in March.
Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch laid out the trouble FCPS is facing with the current construction cost crisis.
“In layman’s terms: we’ve spent half of the reserve and Falls Church High School still needs another $33 million in addition to what it was bonded for, even though we only have $16 million left in the reserve, and to address this, you’re thinking of including something to address this in the next bond,” he said.
Frisch said FCPS has spent more than $50 million in unanticipated construction costs — enough to finance two school renovations.
“Typically an elementary school renovation costs $25 million,” Frisch said. “We’re talking about the ability to renovate two elementary schools that we’ve had in additional costs, not to mention the money from the reserve that was spent.”
Frisch suggested FCPS may want to slow down its construction timeline to see if the construction materials market evens out, citing reports of declining lumber prices as a sign that some relief may be ahead.
“No one wants to slow things down, but we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by pouring this money out the window instead of waiting, perhaps a year, to see if prices stabilize for construction materials,” Frisch said. “There’s not a lot we can do about prevailing wages, but where we can do something is the cost of materials for construction.” Read More
Fairfax County School Board member Megan McLaughlin will not be running for reelection in the Braddock District, as at-large member Rachna Sizemore Heizer sets her sights on the seat.
On Monday evening (Feb. 6), McLaughlin announced via a newsletter that she will officially “retire from this position” when her third term ends on Dec. 31, 2023.
“I have also been deeply honored by your tremendous support throughout my tenure,” McLaughlin wrote. “However after more than 15 years of service [including three terms as your School Board Member and previously as a community advocate], I believe it is the right time to provide an opportunity for others to carry on this important work.”
She told FFXnow in an email that the decision to retire “was very difficult” since advocating for students’ needs is the “best part” of public service.
“After 12 years, I will have done all that I can to help strengthen FCPS,” she said.
McLaughlin was first elected in 2012 and touts implementing later high school start times, establishing the Office of the Auditor General, and reforming student discipline practices to be less punitive as her biggest accomplishments during her tenure.
In 2020 and 2021, in the midst of Covid, McLaughlin advocated for schools to reopen. She called then-superintendent Scott Brabrand’s reversal of a decision to return to in-person learning a “breach of trust.”
She was only the school board member who was praised by a parent group advocating for an in-person return to schools, while the group tried to recall several other members.
For her remaining time on the board, McLaughlin told FFXnow that she looks forward to assisting Dr. Michelle Reid in her adjustment to being superintendent and adopting Fairfax County Public Schools’ new strategic plan.
“I will continue to champion stronger fiscal oversight of FCPS’ $3.5 Billion budget, and expanding access to Pre-K for our youngest learners,” she said. “And I will do my very best to help strengthen public trust and confidence in FCPS.”
With McLaughlin’s retirement, school board chair Rachna Sizemore Heizer announced this morning that she will run for the open Braddock District seat. She’s currently one of three countywide board members, but wants to represent her home district.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished over the past few years and excited to build on that progress because there is much more to be done,” she wrote in a statement. “Ensuring an inclusive and exceptional strengths-focused education for every child is more important than ever.”
When first elected in 2019, Heizer was the first Asian American woman and first Indian American person ever elected to a countywide position in Fairfax County.
In 2020, she responded to the then-education secretary Betsy DeVoe’s criticism of FCPS by saying she won’t “be bullied into blatantly unsafe plans…If I don’t get re-elected bc of it, I’m good.”
Heizer said she’s “grateful” for McLaughlin’s 12 years on the board and thanked her for her attention to issues like restorative justice and student health as well as “her insistence that we pursue excellence in all we do on behalf of taxpayers and students alike.”
Heizer has been on the board for just over three years and touts her work expanding access to advanced academics, providing raises to teachers and staff, and shifting the school division’s culture to one that respects neurodiversity.
Tamara Derenak Kaufax won’t be seeking reelection to the Fairfax County School Board.
The three-term Franconia District representative and current board vice-chair announced this morning that she won’t be running this year via an emailed newsletter.
“I have never taken lightly my responsibility to you — my constituents, neighbors, and friends — to keep our schools strong so our community remains strong. I will continue to work hard for you throughout this year,” Derenak Kaufax wrote. “As I complete this chapter, I am filled with both humility and pride. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support and for this opportunity to serve.”
Her statement didn’t directly address why she made this decision. FFXnow has reached out to Derenak Kaufax but hasn’t heard back, as of publication time.
In the statement, Derenak Kaufax listed a number of accomplishments during her 12-year tenure including implementing later school start times, instituting the school system’s first strategic plan, and establishing an independent Office of the Auditor General.
She’s also been vice-chair now three times and school board chair once, back in 2014.
This announcement now makes it four school board seats that will be open during this election cycle. Last month, Dranesville District school board member Elaine Tholen officially announced she won’t be seeking re-election.
Laura Jane Cohen, who represents Springfield on the school board, also isn’t running because she’s looking to be voted in the Virginia House of Delegates. Neither is Sully District representative Stella Pekarsky, who’s campaigning in the Virginia State Senate’s redrawn 36th District.
Two school board members have said they’ll seek another term. Karl Frisch confirmed earlier this month that he’ll run again to represent the Providence District, and he already has a challenger. Conservative activist Jeff Hoffman has been a vocal critic of the school board, particularly over its policies supporting transgender students.
Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie Meren told FFXnow in December she is running again as well.
The six other school board members have not made an announcement yet if they plan on running in this year’s general election on Nov. 7.
Derenak Kaufax’s full statement is below: Read More