Newsletter

Local Elected Officials React to Mask Lawsuit — Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) and Delegates Eileen Filler-Corn (D-31st) and Marcus Simon (D-53rd) were among the Congressional and General Assembly representatives who expressed support for the Fairfax County School Board’s lawsuit seeking to stop Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order prohibiting mask requirements in schools. [Twitter]

Metro Seeks Public Comment on New Budget — “The public comment period for Metro’s Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) budget is officially open, and Metro’s Board of Directors wants the public’s input. Metro is encouraging the public to share feedback before the comment period ends at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, February 15.” [WMATA]

Redistricting Committee Meets to Talk Name Changes — “Lee, Mason, Mount Vernon, Springfield and Sully Board of Supervisors’ Districts could be getting new names. The Redistricting Advisory Committee is meeting virtually on Tuesday, Jan. 25, to begin discussing these possible name changes.” [Fairfax County Government/Twitter]

Students Sought for MCC Governing Board — “If you are a high school student who lives or attends school in the Langley or McLean high school boundary areas and you’d like to gain leadership skills and serve your community, consider running for a seat on the McLean Community Center’s Governing Board.” [Fairfax County Government/YouTube]

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Morning Notes

Fairfax High Students Walk Out in Protest — “Hundreds of students from Fairfax High School…walked out in protest Thursday morning to show their support for a student they say was attacked in an Islamophobic incident. A Change.org petition calling on Fairfax school administrators to do more about the incident, which happened Tuesday, has garnered more than 3,600 signatures.” [WTOP]

Virginia Budget Plan Unveiled — For the 2022-2024 state budget, his final as governor, Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed about $2.1 billion in tax cuts, including an elimination of the 1.5% state grocery tax. Expenditures include pay raises for public school teachers, state employees, and law enforcement and corrections officers, along with $2.8 billion for capital improvement projects. [The Washington Post]

Program Offers Free Lyft Rides Over Holidays — “The SoberRide program offering free Lyft rides to keep would-be drunk drivers off the roads will kick off on Friday, Dec. 17. The nonprofit Washington Regional Alcohol Program holds the SoberRide in partnership with Lyft during the winter holiday season as well as St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Independence Day and Halloween, other high-risk holidays for drunk driving.” [Patch]

Vienna Theatre Company Cancels Shows — “Due to illness, the cast and crew for ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales’ is regrettably cancelling this weekend’s performances (Dec. 17, Dec. 18 and Dec. 19). All tickets for cancelled shows will be fully refunded. If you have any questions, please call 703-255-6360.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

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Morning Notes

Virginia Hospital Center Expands into Tysons — “The Arlington health system has purchased a building at 1760 Old Meadow Road where it’s setting up an orthopedic outpatient surgery center, according to VHC CEO Jim Cole. The hospital is now renovating a 14,900-square-foot area of existing building in a project expected to cost $6.4 million including construction and equipment…The facility is slated to open in mid-2022.” [Washington Business Journal]

County Releases FY 2023 Budget Forecast — Fairfax County anticipates a 5.7% revenue increase of approximately $279.6 million for fiscal year 2023, which starts July 1, 2022. However, the gains will be offset by continued declines in real estate values for office buildings and senior care facilities due to the pandemic. [Fairfax County Government]

County Police Focus on Recruitment and Violent Crimes — “While monitoring disturbing trends such as domestic homicides and increasingly violent vehicle thieves, Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis hopes to hire more officers and implement changes to modernize the police department. The county’s overall crime rate now is down by slightly more than 12%, or about 3,500 fewer victims compared with the previous year.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Town of Vienna Offices Closed Tomorrow — “Town offices and the Community Center will be closed Nov. 25 for Thanksgiving. There will be no trash collection on Nov. 25, crews will pick up along that route the next day. The Community Center will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 26, while Town offices will be closed.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

Visit Fairfax Launches Holiday Gift Guide — “Ali Morris at Visit Fairfax, the county’s official tourism and hospitality promotion group, created the Fairfax County 2021 Holiday Gift Guide to showcase gift-worthy products created right here and the artisans behind the creations. You can shop by these categories: art and designs; body; chocolate; coffee; food; kids; pets; stocking stuffers; textiles; wine, beer and spirits.” [FCEDA]

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Compensation increases for employees and real estate tax cuts for residents are on the table, as the extra money keeps rolling in for the Town of Vienna.

In addition to receiving $8.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds this summer, the town ended the last fiscal year (July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021) with $900,000 in surplus revenue, staff told the Vienna Town Council in a conference session on Monday (Oct. 18).

“We’re in this position because we cut our budget. We cut our revenues to deal with the pandemic. We had to cut our expenditures,” Finance Director Marion Serfass said. “But then our revenues came in in some key areas pretty darn close to what we had budgeted, so that gave us a nice surplus.”

According to town staff, Vienna got higher-than-expected revenue from sales taxes, business licenses, zoning permit fees, and state and federal revenues in FY 2020-2021. In addition, position vacancies helped keep costs down.

Vienna’s budget committee presented three options for allocating the surplus funds.

Scenario 1

The town could follow its traditional practice of putting half of any surplus in a rainy day fund and using the other half to cover currently unfunded priorities:

  • $125,000 to fix pay compression for 41 employees
  • $175,000 for street paving work
  • $50,000 for tree maintenance and beautification
  • $100,000 to address 2022 budget corrections

Scenario 2

Because the rainy day reserve is already above where it needs to be, town staff proposed instead “returning” some money to employees and taxpayers. If the town allocates all $900,000 in the current fiscal year, it could:

  • Cover the unfunded priorities above, except paving would get just $75,000
  • $280,000 to give residents a half-cent tax rebate
  • $270,000 to give employees a 3% salary increase starting on Jan. 1, 2022

Scenario 3

The town could also hold $550,000 to spend next fiscal year, while still covering the unfunded priorities now:

  • $280,000 to reduce the real estate tax rate by half a cent
  • $270,000 to increase employee salaries by 3% starting on July 1, 2022

Serfass noted that the surplus could be spent on any priorities, but she suggested paving and tree maintenance because the town council had previously floated those as areas that could use more money.

“Here’s some things that fall into the category of things we wanted to do but haven’t had enough money to do them,” she said. “We could always put more money in paving. We’re only getting the index of ‘fair’…We know we have issues with trees.”

The council gave its support for funding those needs as well as holding money for a tax rate reduction in July instead of an immediate rebate.

“I know it’s not much either way, but I think [a rate reduction] has more value than mailing somebody a pretty small check,” Councilmember Ed Somers said.

The council proved skeptical, however, when it came to the proposed 3% salary increase, since it would be a recurring expense paid for with a one-time surplus.

“If you are using long-term money for short-term gain, I have never seen that work,” Councilmember Steve Potter said, adding that he would be more comfortable offering bonuses or another incentive to help recruit and retain workers.

According to Michelle Crabtree, Vienna’s human resources director, other jurisidictions have seen some success in using bonuses to recruit employees, particularly police officers and commercially licensed drivers.

“We’ve had a high turnover in public works,” she said. “We’ve lost eight people this year, and seven of them said it was one hundred percent because they could find more money elsewhere.”

Noting that Vienna is hardly alone in having labor challenges, Councilmember Nisha Patel said she would support bonuses targeted toward the positions facing the biggest hiring and retention issues.

“If we have additional funds that can go to staff, maybe we should use those more wisely to attract and retain, as opposed to just spreading it out,” Patel said.

The Vienna Town Council will hold a public hearing on the surplus funds on Nov. 15.

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The McLean Community Center Governing Board will hold a public hearing tonight (Wednesday) on its proposed budget for fiscal year 2023. The board meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at MCC’s 1234 Ingleside Avenue facility.

While COVID-19 has been a source of difficulty, the proposed $6.3 million FY 2023 budget is based on “assuming operations will be under normal conditions for the full year,” according to proposed budget draft.

Program revenue for FY 2021 was $929,000 lower than the adopted budget, though MCC also saved roughly $1 million in operating expenses.

The community center continues to be challenged by the effects of the pandemic in the current fiscal year 2022. Program and event registration has increased, with alternate and virtual programs still being made available, but safety precautions still require lower occupancy limits.

For FY 2023, the proposed revenue projections are as follows:

  • Real estate tax: $5.2 million
  • Interest on investments: $20,000
  • Rec class fees — instructional programs: $467,300
  • Special events: $53,400
  • Performing arts — theatre: $114,550
  • Youth program fees: $138,910
  • Old Firehouse Teen Center: $212,500
  • Visual arts activity fees: $0
  • Miscellaneous (facility rentals, ad revenue, etc.): $89,325

The proposed budget would cover 389 recreational classes, 169 performing arts events, seven youth events, and 14 special events, including a Fourth of July celebration, McLean Day, and the annual McLean 5K.

MCC’s summer camps are also expected to generate $126,000 at full capacity.

Operating expenses addressed by the budget include the annual operation of the center and regular costs of facility maintenance, utilities, instructor fees, theatre productions, and operating costs for events. The personnel expenses include salaries, as well as taxes and benefits.

Preliminary projections for expenses include the following:

  • Administrative service: $974,115
  • Facilities services: $864,365
  • Public information: $508,947
  • Recreational class — instructional programs: $771,737
  • Special events: $633,746
  • Performing arts — theatre: $1,539,733
  • Youth program: $353,555
  • Teen center: $696,629
  • Visual arts activity: $25,000

Capital improvement projects on the docket for FY23 include electric vehicle charging stations, shade and sails, a community mural, and $750,000 to renovate the community center’s roof.

The governing board is scheduled to approve an FY23 budget when it meets on Oct. 27.

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Morning Notes

Lieutenant Governor Candidates Speak at Tysons Luncheon — “Candidates for lieutenant governor of Virginia told their personal stories and articulated their values at a Sept. 1 luncheon in Tysons, but provided few specifics on what they would seek to accomplish if elected.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

MCC to Hold Public Meeting on Budget Tonight — “The McLean Community Center (MCC) Governing Board will hold two, in-person budget meetings this month in order to gather input and suggestions from the residents of Dranesville Small District 1-A on the Center’s fiscal year 2023 budget. The first meeting, the Finance Committee Meeting of the Whole, will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 8.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Tysons Startup Raises Millions in Funding — The Tysons-based startup theCut, a mobile platform that enables users to book and pay for barbershop appointments, announced last week that it has raised $4.5 million in seed money, bringing its total funding to $5.35 million to date. Company leaders say they will use the funds to build out a team that currently consists of 20 employees, including interns. [DC Inno]

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Vienna elected officials will discuss how to use the town’s federal COVID-19 relief funds at a meeting next month, though the town council is leaning away from using the money to give essential workers extra pay, Director of Finance Marion Serfass said on Monday (Aug. 30).

The Town of Vienna formally received $8.5 million on July 12 — half of its $17.1 million allotment from the American Relief Plan Act, which is providing the money to help local and state governments respond to the pandemic.

“Any funds that are not expended or that will not be expended on necessary expenditures incurred by December 31, 2024, by the locality…must be returned to the federal government,” Virginia Secretary of Finance Joe Flores noted in a June 9 letter to recipients.

At a public hearing on Monday (Aug. 30), Serfass detailed the limits on how the town can use the money, noting that it can’t independently offer certain services that are provided by the county, such as schools and libraries.

The U.S. Treasury permits localities to spend ARPA funds on four categories, as summarized by the town:

  • Category A: Response to the public health emergency and negative impacts of the pandemic, including capital improvements to adapt buildings and maintenance of park space for deferred upkeep and extra use during quarantine periods
  • Category B: Premium pay to essential workers and grants to employers of essential workers; the only eligible workers in the town would be sanitation and public safety
  • Category C: Provide government services related to revenue reduction from the pandemic
  • Category D: Necessary capital investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure, which has been interpreted to involve stormwater

Serfass said that the town so far has informally elected not to allocate funds to category B but added that the issue could be discussed further.

According to Serfass, the government services category has been interpreted to mean any services that the town provides, which could include cybersecurity improvements, for example. She also said a preliminary calculation suggests the town won’t be allowed to spend more than $2.6 million in this area based on federal restrictions.

The public hearing on Monday drew only one speaker, Bob McCahill, who represented the civic group North East Vienna Citizens Association.

McCahill said his group recommends that the town devote money for water and sewer infrastructure to free up capital money for purchases of equipment that could be used to collect and remove leaves in the fall.

“The idea is that the purchased capital equipment would be much more efficient than the current method,” he said.

The NEVCA has advocated for changes to a town-owned property along Beulah Road that is currently used to store leaves and process them into mulch. The group says those operations disturb residents, and the space should be restored back to a park.

McCahill also said the association wants the town to use the federal money to mitigate parking issues.

The town council will deliberate on how to spend the money in a conference session scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 20 at Vienna Town Hall.

The public hearing is closed, and there won’t be public comment at the September meeting, but residents are always encouraged to share their thoughts with the mayor and council, town spokesperson Karen Thayer said in an email yesterday (Tuesday).

Residents can email Town Clerk Melanie Clark at [email protected], call her at 703-255-6304, drop off correspondence at the town hall, or contact elected officials directly.

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The Fairfax County School Board (via FCPS)

Fairfax County Public Schools will provide additional compensation for select staff members, particularly bus drivers and special education teachers, and bolster its mental health services, thanks to a new round of federal COVID-19 relief.

The ESSER III (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) spending plan approved by the Fairfax County School Board on Thursday (Aug. 26) devotes $188.6 million to various expenses tied to keeping schools open and safe during the ongoing pandemic.

The funds will last for three years and came from the American Rescue Plan Act that Congress passed in March.

“We believe our ESSER 3 plan addresses key areas to support schools as they return to in-person instruction from the pandemic as well as increase our focus on serving students and staff in our school division with an equity lens,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a statement for the board’s meeting last week.

The school board approved the measure almost unanimously. Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin abstained, restating concerns that the spending plan doesn’t contain the level of detail she wanted to ensure adequate oversight.

The multi-year funding covers:

  • Nearly $55 million for academic intervention
  • $46 million to pay special education teachers more for increased workloads connected with the pandemic and individualized education plans
  • $23 million for social and emotional learning needs of students
  • Nearly $14 million for after-school programming and transportation
  • $10 million for cafeteria, classroom, and outdoor monitors
  • $9 million for cybersecurity
  • $3 million to increase bus drivers’ starting pay from $19.58 per hour to $22.91

The academic and social and emotional learning categories encompass everything from tutoring support for before and after school programs to mental health materials, technical education, and transportation to school programs on Saturdays.

“Each school will receive funding allocations as well as stipends for academics and wellness,” FCPS said in a news release on Friday (Aug. 27). “The academic and wellness allocations are to be used to directly support students. The amount each school receives is based on its project enrollment and need.”

For academic and wellness-related items, which make up 82% of the allocations, elementary schools are expected to receive about $50,000 to $189,000, middle schools will get $69,000 to $298,000, and high schools can count on around $105,000 to $368,000.

Schools will get similar amounts to address social and emotional learning needs, resulting in about $37 per student.

The plan was designed to give schools flexibility in how they spend their money, while also establishing checks and balances for approving and overseeing the money, according to FCPS.

“All schools will create a plan that outlines how they will use their ESSER III funding to support students’ academics and wellness, and they will post information about their plan on the school website,” FCPS said.

The plan also calls on FCPS to fast track the addition of 10 positions for its English Language Learner programs, which already include 887 positions, 98% of which are teachers, Brabrand noted.

According to the state, $124 million was available as of April 30 for Fairfax County, and the remaining third will become available after FCPS submits a plan to the state due on Wednesday (Sept. 1).

The Commonwealth required school districts to post their plans for using the money within 90 days of receiving the funds. Districts were also required to gather public input, which FCPS did with a hearing on June 7.

The ESSER plan is separate from the year-end budget review that the school board approved during the same meeting on Thursday, which included one-time bonuses for FCPS staff.

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The Fairfax County School Board meets on Aug. 26 (via FCPS/YouTube)

The Fairfax County School Board approved bonuses for all public school employees yesterday (Thursday) in a gesture intended thank them for their work during the pandemic.

According to Fairfax County Public Schools, the district had $82.1 million available in its year-end budget review. The school board voted 10-1 to approve the measure with Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin opposing and Member-at-Large Abrar Omeish abstaining.

The bonuses will be paid in November and consist of $500 for temporary workers and $1,000 for both full-time and hourly contracted employees.

“$1,000 doesn’t touch the surface. I understand that. I think we all do here,” Springfield District Representative Laura Jane Cohen said at the board meeting.

During a work session on Tuesday (Aug. 24), the board considered giving the same amount to everyone, including some 2,500 substitute teachers, but FCPS staff noted that a person who only worked one day would then be eligible for the higher amount.

The total cost of the one-time bonuses is $32.7 million. The board also approved other revenue adjustments, including $12.2 million for textbooks and nearly $6.6 million in major maintenance projects.

While multiple school board members described the bonuses as “modest,” the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, a union that represents educators and other non-administrative staff, expressed appreciation for the gesture.

McLaughlin said before the vote that she supported the bonuses for staff, but she voted against the motion because of one line item involving Food and Nutrition Services computer equipment and software services.

McLaughlin cited concerns over FCPS spending $1.8 million on Food and Nutrition Services, saying it’s meant to be a self-sustaining grant fund that had previously been allocated $10 million.

Omeish said she would abstain from the vote to urge FCPS to adjust how it considers spending money at the end of each budget year.

“What’s left at year-end is not a trivial amount,” she said. “I’m hopeful that in this coming cycle, we can…have a process that is more thorough at the end of the year, one that involves community input or at least more justification around the monies allocated to prevent the rubber-stamping problem.”

Omeish also said that the FCPS equity team should lead from the beginning to address disproportionate needs and properly prioritize such spending.

The board also passed a $188.6 million plan for spending federal COVID-19 stimulus money from its ESSER III (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) fund. McLaughlin abstained.

The multi-year plan includes funds to pay special education teachers more for increased workloads, to support students’ social and emotional learning needs, for cybersecurity, to increase bus drivers’ starting pay, and to hire cafeteria, classroom, and outdoor monitors, among other expenses.

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Fairfax County Public Schools is considering providing $1,000 bonuses to its employees, along with a base pay increase for bus drivers.

FCPS administrators and the school board discussed the potential compensation boosts during a work session yesterday (Tuesday), when they also debated how to spend and oversee $189 million in federal COVID-19 relief money.

As part of its fiscal year 2021 budget review, the district could use $32.7 million for one-time bonuses to employees, which is unrelated to the relief money. A retention strategy similar to bonuses given to county government workers, the bonuses would be $1,000 for contracted employees and $500 for 3,352 hourly workers.

A vote on the budget review is scheduled for the school board’s meeting tomorrow (Thursday). If approved, the bonuses would be paid in November, according to FCPS staff.

Springfield District School Board Representative Laura Jane Cohen raised concerns about the proposed gap between what full-time and temporary staff would receive.

“I would argue that there is no way in the world we could have gotten through last year and now even more with folks being quarantined [without substitute teachers],” Springfield District representative Laura Jane Cohen said.

The discrepancy led the school board to consider whether temporary staff could also get $1,000. Those workers include some 2,500 substitute teachers as well as other workers, such as coaches and dining room assistants, but someone who worked one day would also be eligible, according to Sean McDonald, interim assistant superintendent with the Department of Human Resources.

During their work session, the school board also discussed plans for the ESSER III money (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) that FCPS got from the $1.9 trillion stimulus that Congress passed as part of the American Rescue Plan Act this spring.

The ESSER III fund is intended to help FCPS respond to pandemic-related issues and will run from this current school year through June 2024. The proposed spending plan covers increased workloads for Individualized Education Program (IEP) staff, addresses students’ social and emotional needs, and supports other school operations.

FCPS staff also pitched allocating nearly $3.3 million to increase bus drivers’ pay, citing a need to stay competitive with surrounding school districts.

“I believe our labor market is fundamentally restructuring before our eyes right now,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said.

He said the ESSER III money could raise the minimum pay of the district’s 325 bus drivers to “step six,” or around $23 or $24 per hour. Faced with a shortage of drivers, FCPS is currently offering a starting salary of $19.58 an hour to new drivers, along with a $2,000 signing bonus.

Braddock District representative Megan McLaughlin expressed disappointment with the ESSER III spending plan, saying she wanted more information on how staff came up with the dollar amounts for each line item.

“I’m sitting here in shock,” McLaughlin said. “…There’s no way I’m voting for this on Thursday, and here’s why. At some point, this board has got to demonstrate where we stand on our fiduciary responsibility.”

FCPS has proposed spending the money based on four categories:

  • Address learning deficits
  • Provide for students’ academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs
  • COVID-19 prevention and mitigation strategies
  • Other uses, such as technology, communication, translators, interpreters, project management, and transportation

Those will help give individual schools flexibility in how to spend their money with FCPS providing oversight.

“The flexibility is there so a school with those needs can shift the funds and resources as approved by the region to take care of those specific needs,” said Mark Greenfeld, assistant superintendent of the Department of School Improvements and Supports.

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