Local Commentary

Editorial: Will Help Be On the Way?

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine’s proposal to cut state funding for K-12 education this week comes on top of shortfalls in funds generated at the local jurisdictional level, and augers some of the most severe school budget cuts for the coming fiscal year seen in memory.

While the cuts are expected to hurt rural regions of Virginia the most, because those are already the most reliant on state funding support, in Northern Virginia, Fairfax County’s school system is expected to receive $48 million less from the state, and the City of Falls Church’s system is expecting to get $465,825 less than the approximately $5 million it has been used to receiving from the state every year.

While Falls Church’s total operating budget for its schools in the current fiscal year is $37 million, and that was a “bare bones” figure approved last spring, Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin is facing the prospect of an actual cut in the net dollar size of the school budget for the first time ever as she prepares her recommended budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2009. She will present that to the F.C. School Board on Jan. 13. Following her presentation, the School Board will review and adopt its budget to forward to the City Council at the end of February. The final decision on the dollar amount of the School Board budget will be in the hands of the City Council, which will adopt it and the City’s operating and capital budgets at the end of April 2009.

The question that remains open for Falls Church and local jurisdictions everywhere, as the national economy worsens and unemployment rises to over nine percent through 2009, is how the new Obama administration in Washington will target the stimulus packages it has already indicated it will deploy on a massive scale. The silver lining on the very stormy clouds overhead is the fact that Obama’s stimulus efforts may go directly to mitigate shortfalls in state and local governments, to keep teachers and other school professionals in their jobs, construction projects on schedule, and so forth. It can be expected that, if this is the direction the Obama administration takes, it is keenly aware of the tight deadlines on budgetary decisions that these state and local jurisdictions will confront in the early months of 2009.

Therefore, it is hoped that immediately upon President-elect Obama’s swearing in on Jan. 20, a package of economic stimulus legislation will hit the Congress, assured of Obama’s signature if and when passed. The focus of state and local leaders, therefore, needs to be on Washington, which for this region is fortunately near to hand. Obstructionists in the U.S. Senate may still have barely enough votes to deploy delaying tactics. They will need to be politically targeted, just as the Obama administration will need to be urged to move swiftly and to deploy the stimulus resources best to forestall the worst that may otherwise damage the educational opportunities of the nation’s school children.