Fairfax County Bond Referendum, 2009


Virginia county governments are required to put bond issuance to a voter referendum in order to borrow money on behalf of the county. Bond issuance is usually used by governments to raise money for large capital expenditures, and those bonds are repaid to their purchasers at a later date with interest. Bond referendums in Fairfax County historically pass by a large margin, in large part because people think they are voting in favor of the agencies that will benefit. After all, who wants to vote ‘against’ schools, parks, or transportation? Many voters do not realize that bond issuance contributes to government debt and should be used sparingly.

Fairfax County School Bonds

Citizens of Fairfax County will be asked through a bond referendum to authorize the Board of Supervisors to borrow up to $232.6 million to fund Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). This money, in addition to bonds previously issued and other funding, will be used for building new schools and improving existing ones.

This proposed $232.6 million of new county debt would be in addition to the $365.2 million in bonds issued after the 2007 referendum, 246 million dollars in bonds issued after the 2005 referendum, any number of bonds from previous measures, and an annual disbursement of over $1.7 billion (2009) from the county fund. In fact, over 53 percent of Fairfax County’s annual budget goes to our schools every year—more than police, fire, EMS, courts, health services, parks, libraries, road maintenance, landfills, public works, community development, consumer protection, legislative functions, executive functions, debt repayment, and hundreds of other county functions combined.

For the 2010 fiscal year, FCPS and its 197 schools have an incredible operating budget of $2.2 billion. The average annual cost of educating just one of the system’s 173,000 students is almost $13,000, well above the $10,000/year national average reported by the Census Bureau. 74 percent of FCPS’s funding comes from Fairfax County, 12 percent from the Commonwealth of Virginia, 3.8 percent from the United States federal government, 6.9 percent from ‘sales tax’, and 3.5 percent from ‘other’.

Despite a huge, ongoing public investment, our schools—along with most other public schools in the United States—have failed to return sufficient value to the taxpayers. By most independent measures, they lag far behind the education systems in most other industrial and post-industrial nations. They also lag far behind our own private, charter, and religious schools.

It is also clear that FCPS is well-funded. As was the case in 2005 and 2007, the school system has more than enough funding from the county and other sources to build new schools and renovate old ones, if needed. FCPS and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors have not sufficiently justified the continued sinking of billions of taxpayer dollars into our lackluster schools, and have not sufficiently justified the contraction of $232.6 million in new public debt for them either. I strongly endorse a NO vote on the Fairfax County School Bonds Referendum.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.