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F.C. School Boss Proposes Budget Retaining Lag in Competitiveness

To Avoid Tax Hike, F.C. Stays Behind In Teacher Pay

Falls Church City Public Schools will continue to lag behind other regional jurisdictions in teacher salaries if the budget recommended by Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin is adopted by the School Board and City Council in the next months.

Berlin’s proposed $37,698,733 budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is limited to a net 3.5% growth in accordance to guidelines set in meetings with Falls Church City Council members last fall, she reported to the School Board Tuesday night.

Her proposed budget limits salary increases for teachers and staff to a “step” plus 2%, which for teachers and administrators would be an overall increase of 4.6% and for support staff an overall 5.1% increase.

In an interview with the News-Press yesterday, Berlin said that surrounding jurisdictions are expected to hold their salary increases to 2% as well, in the climate of a sharp decline in the growth of real estate values throughout the region. Only Loudoun County may offer a 3% hike, she said.

But Falls Church City Schools already lag behind other area jurisdictions in entry level salary offerings, and maintaining that disadvantage does not bode well for the system’s ability to compete for the best talent.

Right now, Falls Church City Schools offer an entry level salary for a Bachelor’s degree applicant of about $40,000, or $3,000 less than most neighboring districts.

Berlin noted to the School Board Tuesday what it would take to catch up to the system’s neighbors; namely, a net increase of 6%. But, talking to the News-Press, she said she thought it was “unlikely” the School Board would opt for that increase, since it would require the City Council to raise the tax rate.

The School Board, after a series of public hearings and discussions, will adopt its final budget for the coming fiscal year on Feb. 27. Then the City Council will decide if it will fully fund the school budget in its own deliberations that will conclude April 23.

Representatives of the School Board and City Council have been meeting informally, along with members of the City and school staffs, on a monthly basis since the fall. Berlin told the School Board Tuesday that she agreed to a goal of limiting the school budget hike this year to 3.5%, the same as the expected slower rate of revenue growth the City is now expecting.

That goal would allow a new budget without a tax rate increase. However, some have questioned the policy of the School Board sacrificing the needs of the schools to the political expediency of the City Council.

Even with the effort to hold down the school budget increase, Berlin said she was unable to limit its request for a transfer from the City operations budget to 3.5%. Instead, the request to the City will be for a 4% increase, or $138,260 more than the 3.5% target. She recommends the total request from the City side to be $28,761,300, up $1,109,206 from the previous year.

This is due, she said, to a lower rate of contributions from federal and state programs. A 5.4% decline in state sales tax revenue is expected, and a 23.6% decline in federal support.

The overall proposed school system budget of $37,698,733 will be $1,278,102 above the current year.

This includes the fact that pressure on the budget is eased by the expectation of virtual no growth in the overall enrollment in the system. Berlin said it is projected that the current total K-12 enrollment in the system will grow by only three students above the current 1,873 total next fall.

With the departure of Lilla Wise as an effective part-time head of human resources for the system, a full time replacement will be required, Berlin said. The post is key to effective recruitment efforts in a system where there is about a 20% turnover in teachers every year.

Berlin, in comments to the News-Press, said that the Falls Church system has already begun to experience the impact of the highly competitive environment for good new teachers, noting that there has been a significant shift from applicants with Masters degrees to Bachelors. While the system has the region’s third-best salary schedule for teachers with a Masters and five years’ experience in the system, it is weakest at the entry level.