F.C. School Board Forwards Budget To City Council With 5.2% Increase

Intent on maintaining competitiveness with surrounding jurisdictions, the Falls Church School Board added $530,000 to the budget recommended last month by Superintendent Lois Berlin, forwarding a request to the Falls Church City Council for a 5.2% increase in funding for the coming fiscal year. Its budget totals $38,033,733, with the request from the City at $29,096,300.

 “This is still a very conservative budget,” School Board chair Craig Cheney told the News-Press yesterday. He said the board resisted pressures to increase teacher and staff salaries across the board, but took a laser-like strategic approach to heighten the school system’s ability to maintain its competitiveness in the recruitment of the best teachers.

It voted $230,000 in additional funds to boost the entry-level pay for new teachers with bachelor and master’s degrees, bringing the number even with neighboring Fairfax County.

 “This money is targeted for new teacher entry-level salaries, boosting them about $2,500 to $3,000,” he said. “Perceptions about such things are decisive as new college graduates scan the field and look at where to apply.”

Cheney said the School Board reviewed five or six approaches to enhancing competitiveness before the decision on this one. Basic decisions were reached at a work session last week and the final vote was unanimous at the School Board’s regular business meeting this Tuesday (all but Kathryn Chandler were present).

Another $300,000 increase in the School Board budget request was added on because of cuts below expectations in state and federal school funding. Overall, the School Board increased the superintendent’s proposed budget by 1%.

The final funding request from the City jumped from a 4% hike in the superintendent’s proposal to a 5.2% hike now.

That is over half-again as much a hike than the City Council said it wanted in talks with the School Board last fall. It indicated that it wanted the School Board to hold its increase to 3%.

The ball now goes into the City Council’s court. The Council does not have the authority to tell the School Board which of its programs to cut or modify. It can only set the dollar amount of what it will provide.

City Manager Wyatt Shields is now obliged to take the full amount of the School Board budget request and add it to his recommendations for City-side spending to issue his FY 2008 proposed budget, due to be presented to the Council on March 12.

Shields will have the benefit of a final determination of City real estate assessments to indicate how revenues and expenditures match up. With the net value of the City’s residential real estate expected to actually drop slightly, the 5.2% increase in the School Board request will put great pressure on the Council to increase the real estate tax rate for the first time in three years.

The Council will have until April 23 to make its final decisions on the parameters of the next budget, which will apply to the fiscal year beginning July 1.