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Tough Choices For Fairfax Schools, Again

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By Jonathan Wilson

Parents and teachers in Fairfax County, Virginia, are waiting to see if important programs, including full-day kindergarten, will be the latest victims of tough economic times.

For this years budget, Fairfax County Public Schools made $90 million worth of budget cuts, that included 800 positions, to make ends meet. Most people agree the coming fiscal year will be a lot worse. Leonard Bumbaca, president of the county's teachers union, says his members are on edge.

"People are scared, and they should be," he says.

On Thursday, Superintendent Jack Dale will lay out his ideas for what needs to be done, and while more personnel cuts are almost certain, programs like full-day kindergarten are also at risk.

Until a few years ago, half-day kindergarten was the norm for students in Fairfax. Jane Strauss, a school board member and budget chairman, says going back to half-day kindergarten for most schools would save almost $14 million. She says no school board member wants to do it; the only other one move that would save more would be increasing class size, which she says is already pushing the limits. It's up to 35 students per class in some schools.

"To increase the staffing formula for one student, that would save about $19 million, but again, that's a terrible choice," says Strauss.

The truth, of course, is that neither option alone will solve Fairfax's problems. The school district's budget deficit is estimated at $176 million.

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