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March 8, 2019

We make choices about Fauquier public schools

File Photo/Lawrence Emerson
About 300 attend the budget hearing last March at Fauquier High School.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
The average class in Fauquier’s three public high schools has 19 students.

Neighboring Prince William County’s 13 high schools average 29 students per class.

That 10-student difference jumps out from piles of documents as we math-challenged journalists try to understand and explain Fauquier County’s annual budget deliberations.

Local funding for public education usually gets the most attention — as it does again this year. As a community, we constantly grapple with what we should spend for public education versus what we can afford.

The answers run the gamut.

Some argue we spend too little. Others say we can afford no more.

Everybody seems to agree that the Commonwealth of Virginia, because of a complex formula known as the “composite index,” provides less than an equitable amount for Fauquier schools. Essentially, the county suffers in the competition for state school funds because of some uber-wealthy residents — including, for example, billionaire Jackie Mars of The Plains — and the amount of land taxed at far less than market value as part of Fauquier’s effort to preserve the rural countryside.

In an unprecedented event this winter, two county supervisors joined teachers, school board members and administrators at a Richmond rally to encourage more state funding for local public education.

But, at the county level, it comes down to choices.

In Fauquier, we have chosen over the last four decades to operate small schools with small classes. Hence, the student-teacher ratio of 19-to-1 in our high schools.

That virtue, which rivals what one might expect in private schools, comes with a price. To pay Fauquier educators what their peers in Prince William earn, would we accept the same ratio of 29 students per teacher? How about 24-to-1?

In almost 36 years of observing the budget process here, I’ve not heard anyone advocate that. And, many in this community remember the problems of packing 1,700 students into Fauquier High School before Liberty opened in 1994.

We operate 20 public schools, scattered all over one of Virginia’s largest counties, with a relatively low population density. That helps push the annual cost of bussing students to almost $8 million. And, from a purely financial — not educational — standpoint, we operate a somewhat inefficient system, with three elementary schools that have fewer than 400 students and three middle schools with fewer than 500.

We quite rightfully brag about the safety and nurturing environments of our small schools, especially for younger students.

But, again, we must acknowledge the costs of the choices we make.

While lots of new half-million-dollar homes spring up each year and attract families that can pay big mortgages, thousands of Fauquier citizens continue to live much more modestly, often struggling to pay taxes on property worth far less.

After decades of resistance to “economic development,” we’ve come to acknowledge the need for business growth that would help provide the tax base needed to support public education, along with Fauquier’s dramatically expanded fire and rescue services, sheriff’s office, library system, parks department, prosecutor’s office, general government and more.

The surge in data center proposals, which not so long ago would have generated intense opposition, could help close the funding gap.

Eliminating one of the county’s five middle schools, as proposed, also should improve financial efficiency, saving at least a couple of million dollars a year in operating costs.

Still, at next week’s public hearing on the fiscal 2020 budget, the board of supervisors will hear familiar competing pleas to spend more on county schools and to hold the line on real estate taxes.

County and school officials, by now, have great familiarity with the comparative numbers — and not just when it comes to Fauquier teacher salaries versus those in nearby communities that pay more.

Fauquier taxpayers this year fund 63.4 percent of the school system operating budget, contributing $89.2 million.

In Prince William, the county share comes to only 44 percent.

A lot of factors contribute to both percentages. The challenges grow more complex each year. And, we will continue to debate the merits of competing points of view.

But, most of us choose to live here, in large part because of the relative peace and quiet, the virtues of a predominately rural community.

It also seems odd that while many criticize the board of supervisors’ fiscal conservatism — despite a likely $3.5-million local funding increase for schools in the new fiscal year — not a single candidate has stepped forward to challenge one of the five incumbents in this election year.

What does that say?

Again, I don’t have answers — only observations and questions.

But, if you care and/or have the solution, attend the budget public hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 12, in the Fauquier High School auditorium.

We, as a community, ultimately make the choices.

> For more on student-teacher calculations, see Page 3 of the superintendent’s annual report.

Contact Lou Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-1845.

2018-19 Class Sizes From Fa... by on Scribd

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BestKeptSecrets · March 18, 2019 at 11:44 am
Humans are not machinery. They each don't come with the same brain functions. Developmentally, per the expert Erickson some children can learn to read right from left at a Kindergarten level/age. But most can't read proficiently until the 3rd grade. So, if you child is blessed with the development of their brains early consider yourself fortunate. But otherwise because we can't stick a machine, computer or other apparatus in our brain, no two humans are alike and you can't expect that.

Also, psychosocial development can be considered as part of the success. If you know or recall Maslow Heirachy of needs, if a child has their basic needs met such as food, shelter and clothing they are at the lowest level but you add psychosocial improvements and they may reach as high as self actualization. So the more parental/caregiver support a child has the better their overall success. You can't put all of this on the teacher, their classroom.
Making cars in a factory if you mess up, yes I'd send it back. They do at times have recalls on them as well. Every factory worker either follows their regimen and makes a good car or not. But it takes more to put a child together than screws. bolts, metal. If you think like this.... perhaps you have a disorder?
Jimbowski · March 13, 2019 at 1:03 pm
To Save fauquier and best kept secrets: per ratings I have read Fauquier schools graduate over 90% of its students yet only 80% are proficient in math or reading! Would you be happy if your internet only worked 80% of the time? If you were GM and 20% of your cars did not met standards you would be out of business!

Gee--you dont get paid for overtime yet you claim to be professionals! Ask your neighbors who neighbors who work in private industry and you will find unpaid overtime is the norm; ask them if they ever do clerical work and you will find that they all do!

One final thing. My children both graduated from Fauquier Schools and thanks to Lee Bell and staff they had a great foundation for upper grades--But I could always tell when they had a bad teacher-especially with my son; Then again I could always tell when he had a good or great one. The idea that a one-size-fits all pay scale is just flat wrong. As a friend asked when hiring computer folks--" Do you have 20 years of experience or one year of experience 20 years over?"
Tony Bentley · March 12, 2019 at 7:57 pm
Savefauquiercounty2019 - I've seen some of the products of public schools, and meh, not so hot. A few kids excel with the support of their families, though many go on to be the run of the mill citizens with their heads in their social media clouds (or worse drug addled).
Savefauquiercounty2019 · March 12, 2019 at 3:18 pm
Mark House, I highly doubt any parents are paying over $12,000 a year in state and or county taxes for their children to attend public schools. Yes, you do pay taxes but not near $12,000. Parents appreciate the fact you don't and your child/ren teacher/s has not been compensated. Start supporting public schools, show up and support them
Mark House · March 12, 2019 at 10:13 am
BestKEptSecrets - "Your child or children is/are receiving free education at the cost of over $12,000 for each child." FREE?? What do you think our taxes pay for if not a public school education for all that require it, even if we don't have children? No such thing as FREE!

I'm all for supporting teachers since we don't want the majority of parents teaching their children. We have to straighten out the tax base issue with some paying much more then others in Fauquier County.
BestKeptSecrets · March 12, 2019 at 7:52 am
"No man is an island"
Don't leave your superintendent alone. Stand together. Your educational levels and experience are beyond enough to push for competitive salaries, and benefits.

You never get over time pay. You pick up clerical responsibilities to save the county monies.

Show up at the town meeting. Your presence is needed. Power to the people. Don't let this Board of Supervisors run you out of town. It is time to vote these people out of their seats.

Parents, your support to our teachers are needed. Show up. Your child or children is/are receiving free education at the cost of over $12,000 for each child. It is worth you showing up. Parents presence in the school and to the county teachers will show your child/children you support fair and competitive wages. Think about what you pay your plumber, electrician, auto mechanic? You will hear the student to teacher ratio is lower in this county. Show up and voice what your class ratio is. You will hear the teacher works less hours but tell the Board of Supervisors they are on call throughout the evening and weekend. They do not have too many planning days and do most of their planning off hours. Grading, meetings, planning typically do not occur during the school days while they are teaching!!

Businesses, your businesses depend on competent, talented, educated, top notch teachers. Think about it. Who wants to live in a county that doesn't support each teachers? Show up at the town meetings in support of teachers.

nonewtaxes · March 11, 2019 at 2:12 pm
But but but teachers touch the future. There is no job more important than teaching.

Tuesday is half day. For one of my kids for one of their classes its movie day. Is the teacher surrendering pay for that day or claiming another fringe benefit?

Ranking teachers? How dare the you. You cannot rank teachers because so mush depends on the students. Its just not fair.

Wage compression is a small thing compared to employment compression. When the unemployment rate was 10% Id bet it was much smaller for teachers and a compressed salary if better than no salary. And just because you have no salary dont mean you are forgiven for not paying your teachers.

How much should teachers get paid? Fauquier Students score about the same on tests as kids from the surrounding counties. So performance is par. Students per class is much lower than those schools that we compare to. Given that the reward, test performance, is the same shouldnt our teachers be paid the same as the surrounding counties on a $/student basis?

If PW pays $60,000 for 25 kids per class should FC get paid 20/25($60,000) or $48,000??

I guess the question begs is teaching at PW is such a great deal why arent all the teachers moving?
Jimbowski · March 11, 2019 at 11:41 am
I'm gonna throw out a few new numbers just to confuse things--Per the virginia department of education shown on fauquier schools page the student teacher ration is 12-1 for k thru 8 and 10.8 for 8 thru 12th..What is the real number and if they arent in the classroom where are they?

Second while the turnover rate touted to justify the raise is 12.something percent, the number of teachers leaving who stated higher pay as the reason for leaving was 17 if i remember correctly. The largest single reason was retirement.
There is a lot to be said for trading off 2 hours or so a day for extra salary.

The paper just posted the benefit cost of a beginning teacher ( did not include sick or personal days). Is the contribution to the VRS really 15%?

Salary compression is not unique to Fauquier County. It happens all the time in industry, especially when competing for top graduates in certain discipline. I am intrigued that Mr. Jeck said that there is a new teacher shortage yet his pay proposal offers beginners the lowest increase. All employees are not equal in ability or performance so across the board raises discriminate against really good teachers and reward poor performers.

Jim ONeil--
nonewtaxes · March 11, 2019 at 12:16 am
Looks like test scores are average. So why the smaller class size?
nonewtaxes · March 11, 2019 at 12:14 am
Ifn the lowered class size of FC aint helping the test scores whats the point? When the super says teachers leave FC for PW because they can get more money do the teachers realize they also get more work? For high school its 19 vs 29 students per class.
FairandBalanced · March 10, 2019 at 10:01 pm
correction: not citizen endeavor. Rather, community endeavor.
FairandBalanced · March 10, 2019 at 9:56 pm
And, one more thing while I am on this soap box. Local county real estate assessments and tax mechanisms are relatively modern creatures. They were created, in the main, to FUND PUBLIC EDUCATION. Citizens in the their local communities took pride in their high school graduates. Considered them a product of citizen endeavor and had high hopes of sending those kids on to a better, more educated life. So there!
FairandBalanced · March 10, 2019 at 9:40 pm
BTW, jimmie boy, for this article, that was an over the top comment, cut and paste job just to make a point. which was what? PE's-CE's (whatever you want to call 'em) are bad land use methodology and policy?
FairandBalanced · March 10, 2019 at 9:14 pm
BKS and JG both need to go to time out. Perpetual Easement theory is so meh now. An old boomer/NIMBY solution who's time has come and gone. An old conservative Republican ploy to make the rich richer. What percentage of land now belongs in the PE purgatory? Not much thank god. How many kids did you stop from living in this county that is changing like the rest of the state. Change is constant. Progress is optional.
Jim Griffin · March 10, 2019 at 7:47 pm
BKS: The BOS knows these numbers, is fully aware of the conundrum before it, as do the other counties affected. For example, Orange has a more modest problem but calculates it costs them half a million a year:

Another point: These very real costs are another major cost incorrectly unattributed to easement land in the Cost of County Services study. It is full of inaccurate assumptions, but that is what you get when you let a lobby group design your study.

Hey, we made the Top 20! Here's a list of all Virginia counties sorted by ability to pay, with counties at the top allocated less money by the state than are counties at the bottom:

.8000 SURRY

.8000 BATH



.6114 FAUQUIER * * *
.5506 CLARKE

.5474 LOUISA
.5356 NELSON


.4333 WARREN

.4298 ESSEX

.4172 NEW KENT

.4025 ORANGE


.3822 YORK


.3715 SALEM




.3482 SUSSEX


.3337 FLOYD
.3321 GREENE
.3235 CRAIG

.3231 AMELIA
.3146 WYTHE
.3132 BEDFORD 3

.3070 BLAND

.3007 PAGE


.2870 NORTON

.2779 GILES

.2587 GALAX

.2474 WISE



.2253 HENRY

.2174 SMYTH

.1917 SCOTT
.1754 LEE
FairandBalanced · March 10, 2019 at 6:15 pm
Wow, Laurence! "While lots of new half-million-dollar homes spring up each year and attract families that can pay big mortgages, thousands of Fauquier citizens continue to live much more modestly, often struggling to pay taxes on property worth far less."

that sounds like a back-handed slur. if you weren't born and bred in good ole Fauquier and your great great grand daddy didn't ride along with JEB you are not modest and your big mortgage proves so?

You are better than that. BTW, did you know statistically Fauquier's human population of immodest people (in the majority) grows by 1 person per day?
BestKeptSecrets · March 10, 2019 at 4:27 pm
So, Jim Griffin needs to represent these facts at the meetings. Loud and clear, if correct we need to change the conservatism easement practices. Fauquier County, our county workers need to be paid competitive salaries. It is essential to keep talented, educated, hard working employees.
Cammie Rodgers · March 10, 2019 at 1:13 pm
Wow, Fauquier is just below Arlington and Alexandria! There are a whole LOT more people living in those two locations to divide up the tax burden versus Fauquier County. Either a change is needed or the Conservation Easement program needs to end. Sad that might bring in more developers, yet the rise in tax burden is chasing many good folks away who really care about where they live. Conservation or corruption?
Jim Griffin · March 10, 2019 at 12:48 pm
Good news, bad news.

Good news: Michael Webert is attempting to change the state's allocations from true value to use value:

Bad news: While there are a handful of counties supportive because they are affected as is Fauquier, the majority of counties are not supportive because changing the formula's calculation will cost them money.

As a result, there have been on-going unsuccessful attempts to change the state law for more than a decade. As this FQ editorial makes clear, these are our choices. We in Fauquier chose to use a formula different than that employed by the state; We in Fauquier can choose true value taxation.

It brings to light another mess of conservation easements: Can we make promises to future taxpayers on how they will be taxed by future boards of supervisors? OTOH, they relied upon the tax system when they made the choice to accept a conservation easement.

It gave them a break that future boards of supervisors may not, need not, perhaps should not continue. Perhaps future boards could require the current holder of those development rights to pay taxes on their value.
PabloCruz · March 10, 2019 at 11:23 am
Perhaps we should amend the county comprehensive plan with the intent that, no guiding principle or associated policy of the comprehensive plan, will have a disparate impact on any other guiding principle or policy within the plan. I referenced this in a Feb. 16 opinion piece. Maybe the PDR program should be suspended until such time as a thorough audit can be performed, and out-year projections estimated. We were in a very bad situation in 2012, as we are this year, and I’m hearing nothing in terms of a policy change that will address a structural budgetary flaw. This problem will only get worse as time goes by, and trying to solve it year by year is not working.
Jim Griffin · March 10, 2019 at 11:14 am
These are numbers from the results of the calculation of ability to pay by the State of Virginia for 2018-2020 in the example locations below. The effect of true value is clear on the values assigned by the state, which place Fauquier closer to Alexandria and Arlington than our neighbors like Culpeper or Loudoun, so they get more state aid than do our schools, placing a proportionally greater burden on our county than it does upon other counties.

.8000 Alexandria 24% more able to pay than FQ
.8000 Arlington 24% more able

.6114 Fauquier

.5383 Loudoun 14% less able to pay than is FQ
.5356 Nelson 14% less able
.4608 Madison 33% less able
.4333 Warren 41% less able
.4244 Winchester 44% less able
.4025 Orange 52% less able
.3912 Fluvanna 56% less able
.3783 Prince William 62% less able
.3573 Culpeper 71% less able
.3557 Manassas 71% less able
.2675 Manassas Park 129% less able to pay than is FQ
Cammie Rodgers · March 10, 2019 at 11:09 am
How long has the Conservation Easement program been in effect? How many people reaped the benefits of the CE, and then went on to sale their property at market value not assessed value? We definitely need an AUDIT, especially of the ultra rich who have benefited the most from the CE program, and can afford to pay more in Real Estate taxes then many of us.
nkersey · March 10, 2019 at 10:16 am
Jim Griffin, thanks for the additional info. I was also making the point that the assessed value of the properties with easements seems to be depressed when compared with their market value (recent sales). Like assessed value, the market value should also reflect the loss of development rights.

In a fair system, the ratio of assessed value to market value would be similar for all citizens. That system would also guard against the clever but unethical schemes of tax attorneys with wealthy clients.
Jim Griffin · March 10, 2019 at 9:57 am
1. The link is broken (too long) in my last post. This fixes it:

2. For nkersey, yours is a useful observation, explained by the notion that a conservation easement automatically lowers the value because the easement strips the property of its development rights. Absent those rights, the property has less "use value" than it does with them -- but its "true value" remains.

Fauquier Now carried an article about this in December 2015:

3. Which raises a key point: When a property loses development rights by easement, the state penalizes Fauquier, continuing to hit Fauquier for the "true value" -- but our county collects taxes by "use value."

In short, the state recognizes full, true value of the land Fauquier gives a tax break. We are hurting ourselves and our schools by choice. We choose to give preference and advantage to recipients of conservation easements, but the state of Virginia does not credit Fauquier for that decision. Indeed, the State of Virginia penalizes Fauquier for the decision.

One of two simple changes can fix this: Either the state changes "ability to pay" calculations to Fauquier's recognition of "use value" OR more likely Fauquier needs to change Fauquier taxes to "true value" calculations, depriving easement owners of artificially lowered taxes, ensuring they pay a fairer share of the tax burden.

If we choose to continue the current arrangement, we will continue to watch other counties reap a greater share of state education money than we do. Our true ability to pay is hidden by our conservation easement practices, practices that we choose -- and can change.
nkersey · March 10, 2019 at 7:56 am
The county would do well to launch an audit of the assessed value of properties with conservation easements. I am doing my own research because it appears to me that these properties have a lower ratio of assessed value to market value than do properties without conservation easements.

I've run across an estate that was subdivided in 2008 "according to research done by the comm" into multiple parcels. At this estate, property parcel PIN 6967-96-7086-000 has a seven bedroom stone mansion resting on land assessed at $31,187 per acre, while adjacent parcel PIN 6977-05-5458-000 has a swimming pool, tennis courts, patio, and lake resting on land assessed at $275 per acre. The property line literally slices between the patio and the corner of the mansion. Zoom in at Google map coordinates 38.802643, -77.842681, then toggle between the Map and Satellite views to see for yourself. To me, that's a property that was dubiously sliced up to reduce its real estate taxes. Our county government stood by and let that happen.

The author rightly points out that there are people who can afford to pay more taxes, and others who cannot. But I see evidence of people who have bountiful ability to pay more taxes, and a county assessor's office that lacks the courage to ensure that those people pay their fare share. The money our schools need may be out there at those estates.
Jim Griffin · March 9, 2019 at 4:54 pm
Cammie: There is a formula the state administers that affects state aid to county schools. Culpeper reaps more state aid than do Fauquier schools, to cite just one example, and that is because Fauquier tax base and income stats show it has a higher ability to pay than does Culpeper.

This state website has more info:

"Composite Index of Local Ability to Pay"

"The Composite Index determines a school division’s ability to pay education costs fundamental to the commonwealth’s Standards of Quality (SOQ). The Composite Index is calculated using three indicators of a locality’s ability-to-pay:

True value of real property (weighted 50 percent)
Adjusted gross income (weighted 40 percent)
Taxable retail sales (weighted 10 percent)"

"Each locality’s index is adjusted to maintain an overall statewide local share of 45 percent and an overall state share of 55 percent."

There is also a chart of counties ranked available at the link above.
Savefauquiercounty2019 · March 9, 2019 at 11:26 am
The student to teacher ratio is not accurate. If any teacher has just 19 students, I'd be completely shocked. The aides are shared. Putting this out in the community is harmful, manipulative. Teachers we support you. You need to call attention to this article. The county board of supervisors need to begin meeting with teachers and respecting their input as the professionals they are. Also surveying teachers and parents in confidence. Get the truth and facts.
Cammie Rodgers · March 9, 2019 at 8:39 am
Thank you Mr. Emerson for the write-up! I am not clear on why having ultra-rich citizens in the county effect the state schools funds. Don't most of the ultra-rich send their children to private schools? Aren't private schools exempt from the consideration of local school funding? 63.4% is a lot of taxpayer money going to the school system, and we still don't have enough affordable housing for the blue collar workers that we need to function as a community.
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