By Ilryong Moon
Delegate Kaye Kory’s column last month contains erroneous information that deserves a response. She suggests that the eastern part of Fairfax County has been shortchanged in regard to construction and renovation projects needed to modernize aging facilities. That is not true. Mason District schools have fared better than the schools in the other districts in the county. Countywide, only 60 percent of the elementary and middle schools and 70 percent of the high schools have been renovated. However, of the 14 elementary schools in the Mason District, only two have yet to be renovated. Just two years ago we opened a brand-new elementary school, Mason Crest. Of the three middle schools, two were renovated and one was torn down and replaced. At the high-school level, three of the four high schools have been renovated. To deal with the longstanding Bailey’s Elementary School overcrowding problem, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has developed an innovative plan for a state-of-the-art urban-style campus to house third- through fifth-graders that we expect to become a model for other parts of Fairfax County. That exciting new campus will open in September.
Delegate Kory does more harm than good by repeating recent negative publicity about Stuart High School. It is true that a recent working conditions survey highlighted some serious issues at the school. These cannot and will not be ignored. FCPS is committed to fixing the problem and, in fact, positive change is already underway. A faculty committee was organized to address and analyze the survey findings and to develop solutions for the identified existing challenges. The story also unfortunately seems to perpetuate a number of negative stereotypes about Stuart and does not reflect the academic progress that students are making. Stuart students’ performance on the 2013 SAT test posted the highest gains in all of FCPS with the critical reading average increasing by 23 points, the math average by 18 points and the writing average by 17 points. Stuart’s ACT English, math, reading and composite scores all increased in 2013; the number of dual-enrollment students more than doubled this past year; and 52 Stuart seniors chose to pursue the full International Baccalaureate diploma – the fourth largest number in the county.
These results are being produced when today 30 percent of Stuart’s students are Limited English Proficient and 62 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, which is an indicator of poverty. These demographics are also reflected in many schools across Fairfax County. We do not view these demographics as a challenge but, rather, an opportunity to ensure that each student reaches his or her full potential.
Administratively, FCPS is fully committed in support of the leadership team at Stuart High School. We know that much work is ahead to ensure that all of our Stuart students achieve at a high level. To assist with that work, Superintendent Garza recently announced the appointments of several experienced FCPS administrators to provide additional day-to-day support for Stuart.
As a matter of factual accuracy, I will also point out that Delegate Kory was wrong in stating that Stuart is currently overcrowded. While we are planning for anticipated future growth, the school currently is 145 seats under capacity. Resources have been added to the school, not taken away, as Delegate Kory alleges.
We do agree with Delegate Kory’s assertion that FCPS is suffering from chronic underfunding at both the state and county levels. It is easy to claim that education is a top priority. However, actions have not matched the rhetoric. For the prior five years, the average increase in funding from the county was 1.1 percent each year. The county Board of Supervisors did provide FCPS with an increase of 3 percent for the 2014-15 school year. However this still falls short of what is needed to maintain the high standards the community expects of its schools. Financial support from the state has been dismal, but declining state assistance for schools did not prevent legislators from imposing arbitrary accountability standards on local school districts. Legislators have asked our teachers and students to produce more with fewer resources. Twenty states provide at least 50 percent of their schools’ total budget. In Virginia, that number is less than 40 percent and, because of an unfair and outdated funding formula, FCPS receives less than 22 percent of its budget from the state. We cannot assume that FCPS’ greatness will continue without the financial resources needed to maintain our competitive advantage. We would hope that Delegate Kory would not just advocate but actually become successful in Richmond in revising the current unfair funding formula and provide adequate education funding so that we could end our over-reliance on property taxes to support Fairfax County Public Schools.
Ilryong Moon is a member at large and former chairman of the Fairfax County School Board.