Falls Church City Schools Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin’s decision to bail out the Falls Church City Council from a politically-unpopular decision to either raise the tax rate or cut the school budget was done at the expense of students of the school system. In her proposed budget presented Tuesday, she acquiesced to Council wishes that the school system’s budget request for the coming fiscal year be held to a 3.5% increase, matching the modest rate of revenue growth the City expects, overall. Placing such political expediency ahead of the needs of the system to be competitive in the pursuit of the best new teaching talent is not the proper role for any school official, or for the school board, which is now being asked to rubber stamp her budget.
Berlin admits that holding down the growth of the school budget perpetuates the F.C. system’s relative disadvantage, in terms of simple entry level salary incentives, compared to surrounding jurisdictions (see story, Page 1 this edition). In an environment where competition is fierce between area districts for the best teachers, this represents a serious threat to the quality of education that students in the F.C. system can expect, and moreover threatens the superb reputation of Falls Church schools. At the risk of attending to concerns other than the kids and their education, per se, we point out that the school system remains Falls Church’s chief “economic driver.” The region’s best realtors testify that the reputation of the schools here account for about a 15% value-added on City real estate compared to surrounding areas. Take away the schools’ reputation, and you risk a 15% decline in City revenues to pay for them and everything else in town.
Therefore, the Council’s message to the school system should be, “Above all, tell us what it will take to maintain our schools as the best around.” That should be the commandment not only from the standpoint of the City’s youth, but of the City’s economic viability.
Still, regardless of what the Council members want, it is simply not the job of the schools to make the Council’s lives easier. Everyone in the school system has as their primary responsibility the education of those under its care and everything it takes to achieve that the most effectively. It is not the responsibility of anyone in the school system to assess what taxpayers may or may not accept without electoral protest.
The school board will now take Dr. Berlin’s proposed budget and decide how to, if at all, change it before sending it on to the City Council for a final OK on funding the City’s lion’s share portion of it. We strongly urge the school board to step up on behalf of those it was elected to serve, the students and employees of the system, and tell the Council what is needed to keep the system the best it can be.
It’s the Council’s job to decide how to meet whatever funding challenge that might present. It’s their job, not the school board’s, to decide whether or not, or how, the school’s funding needs will be met.