Says Squeeze Less Severe Than Neighbors’
Responding to a projected deep cut in revenues, Falls Church Schools Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin delivered her recommended budget to the School Board Tuesday that includes the system’s first-ever net decline in spending over the previous year in its 50-year history.
Berlin’s proposed $39.7 million budget for the coming fiscal year, beginning July 1, is $400,000 less than the current year’s budget, but it involves no personnel cuts and even provides a “step” salary increase for all employees.
The Falls Church system remains in better shape than those in neighboring Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William county systems, Berlin told the News-Press in an interview yesterday. She said she’s spoken with her counterparts in those areas this week, and that “they are really in much more dire straits,” projecting that salary freezes and layoffs will be necessary.
Berlin said she crafted her proposed budget following a “retreat” last fall involving members of the Falls Church City Council, School Board and City and school staff. At that meeting, the City’s Chief Financial Officer John Tuohy forecast a dismal tax revenue picture for the coming year, and all departments of the City government and schools were urged to craft budgets with no revenue growth.
Not only weak revenues from the City’s own tax base, but significantly reduced support from state and federal sources is also expected for the coming year.
“I am proud of the fiscal responsibility reflected in this budget,” Berlin said. The school board, which received Berlin’s proposal without public comment Tuesday, will now hold a series of public hearings and deliberations and modify the budget before forwarding it to the City Council, which will have the final say on the numbers at the end of April.
Berlin said the savings in her proposed budget come in large part from the retirement of veteran teachers and staff members, who’d reached the top of the salary scale, and their replacement by new hires at a significantly lower cost. The net number of employees will not change, but the cost of paying them will, she said.
By “cutting as close to the bone” as possible, thanks to “long, hard work and intense scrutiny,” Berlin said, her budget includes “an ability to recognize the needs of our staff,” by adding the “step” increase of 2.5 percent for everyone.
Those who’ve reached the stop of the “step” scale will get a one percent salary hike, not to exceed $500, she added.
The budget takes into account the fact that, despite the cuts, enrollment is expected to increase next fall. “It’s the same problem our neighbors face,” Berlin remarked.
Despite the austerity, the School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to allow George Mason High School to advertise offering third and fourth year courses in both Chinese and Arabic next fall, for the first time. Whether the courses will actually be offered will depend on how many students sign up.
The school board budget work sessions and hearings commence later this month. The first work session will be Saturday, Jan. 24 at 8:30 a.m. at the Henderson Middle School, and the first public hearing will be Tuesday, Jan. 27, at City Hall.
The complete budget is available on the schools’ web site, www.fccps.org.