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March 18, 2019 · OPINION

Let’s learn from our school budget mistakes

By John Green
Bealeton

Fauquier County Public Schools tells us we have a teacher crisis. We don’t have enough teachers. The reason is teacher pay. Fauquier County Public Schools need more money. Who or what caused these problems?

Ten years ago we were in the “Great Recession.” The economy was down, tax revenue was down. People were out of work and some lost their homes. It was a difficult time. Finding money to keep our schools and government going was difficult. Some unusual things were done.

Jonathan Lewis, then school superintendent, proposed a $63-million renovation of Fauquier High School. Not only that. The renovation was to be a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Star school. The estimated price was more than what it cost to build Liberty High School. They even promised it would save $37,500 per year in energy costs.

When the school board and supervisors met to discuss FHS renovation the supervisors said only $25 million was available. They asked the school board if they could do it for that amount. The school board said yes. That’s like saying I’m buying a $75,000 car and giving the dealer $35,000 and asking for the keys. What kind of people were running our schools and government?

On July 25, 2011, the supervisors and school board signed a funding and scope agreement for a $32.8-million FHS renovation. The school system came up with the additional $7.8 million. If money was so tight where did this money come from? When ground was broken, there was no turning back. Everyone was now committed.

If Dr. Lewis’ $63-million estimate was anywhere close to accurate, cuts had to be made in the scope of the project. A final funding and scope agreement was signed May 28, 2013. It set the final cost at $36.5 million and cut numerous “want” items from the renovation. When you look at the “wants” and “needs” list, you find numerous items that would have to be done soon. Over the next years these items were completed through the capital improvement fund and other ways. The true cost of completing the FHS renovation was more than $36.5 million.

The doing away with automatic step pay increases reduced salary costs for FCPS. It happened in the same time frame as FHS renovation and most importantly during recovery from the “Great Recession.” If the teacher step pay increases are so important to retaining teachers, why has the school board waited ten years to correct the problem?

We elect individuals to represent us at the local, state and federal levels. Why did we allow our local representatives to approve an extremely expensive LEED Gold Star FHS renovation when money was not available and the economy was in decline? And why did we allow our teacher’s pay issue to reach crisis proportions?

It should be obvious to all of us by now that we must be more involved. We can’t just “elect ’em and forget ’em.”
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EducatedCitizen · March 29, 2019 at 12:57 pm
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. There are several members of the current School Board who were part of the board back in 2011 when these mistakes were made and continue to serve on the board today. However, they have let teacher pay get out of control for 10+ years, we struggle to keep school bus drivers, etc. Why is NO ONE running against them? We have candidates for other seats on the school board, but not for the 2 longest serving members. Why not?
Savefauquiercounty2019 · March 20, 2019 at 5:53 pm
When you recruit unsuspected new graduate teachers from other states are they being upfront about the housing issues? ARMI a rental company states an applicant has to make 1/3 salary of their monthly rent. If a new teacher starts at $ 43,000 they disqualify for most of the rentals. So, either a parent cosigns or they move to Culpeper. If Culpeper has affordable, safe housing and will start their new grads off at $50,000 why would a teacher work for Fauquier County?
Mark House · March 18, 2019 at 1:10 pm
When you put a fox in charge of the hen house we all know what the outcome will be. I'm thinking that our local representatives are the ones that need to go back to school to learn basic math and economics. If this were their own bank accounts would they have acted the same? The kind of actions taken here are ones that would have lead to bankruptcy on a personal basis, but thank goodness for the taxpayers money otherwise how wouldn't they be able to keeping planning without really understanding the consequences of what they are planning.
nonewtaxes · March 18, 2019 at 1:08 pm
no pay raise is much better than no job
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