Falls Church School Board Adopts Budget for FY11

Holding out their commitment to “keep cuts as far away from the classroom as possible,” members of the Falls Church School Board voted unanimously to forward a FY11 budget to the City Manager tonight that is $1 million, or 3.6 percent, less than the amount it was granted for the current fiscal year. The vote was for an overall budget of $34,865,300, with a requested transfer from the City of Falls Church of $27,861,800.

School Board Chair Ron Peppe, in comments to the News-Press following the vote tonight, noted that the F.C. Board “took a very different approach from our neighboring jurisdictions” aimed at retaining staff relevant to classrooms, and avoided the more than 100 position cuts in Arlington or 200 in Fairfax. “We did it by spreading things out equitably and working for consolidation with City functions as much as possible,” he said.

The Board chose a budget option on the higher dollar end of four tier choices presented last month by Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin. Of her four options, “This budget comes out somewhere between one and two,” Peppe said.   In includes adding back in two work days that Berlin had proposed cutting, one for instruction and one for teacher preparation, bringing the total of classroom days to 181 for the school year beginning next fall. The board also resolved to continue the effort to bring the International Baccalaureate program to the elementary schools, and voted against charging fees for taking IB exams, although fees for athletic and some other programs will be instituted.

The Board also determined that, with the aid of some additional federal funds, to actually enhance, rather than cut altogether, summer school programs, as some surrounding jurisdictions have proposed. In recognition of the needs of students with special needs, the summer program will include two weeks of enrichment classes, four weeks of summer school proper, and an added two weeks of “summer school plus.” The Board also determined there will be no diminution of health insurance options for the division’s staff, since health insurance was determined by a poll of all staff members to be the benefit most valued.

Some spirited debate accompanied the decision tonight to follow Dr. Berlin’s recommendation to eliminate the full-time position of Director of Communications for the schools and another half-time slot at the Falls Church Cable TV station. That was an area where consolidation with City services was the goal, and Berlin had extensive meetings with City Manager Wyatt Shields and the City’s Director of Communications Barbara Gordon on the feasibility to the move.

Two esteemed members of the Falls Church community, Barbara Cram and Matt Smith, both on the board of the Falls Church Cable Access Corporation, petitioned the Board to reconsider the move to eliminate the school Communications position, based on ambitious plans in the works to upgrade the media coverage provided by the Cable TV and internet options they hope to develop.

“It is a sign of the times that there are no easy decisions,” said School Board member Joan Wodiska. “This is by far the most difficult budget I have been involved with. We have, over the last few years, asked very single person on our staff to do more with less. We have to deliver a bottom line to protect our students.”

While the City Manager, in presenting his proposed budget to the City Council next Monday night, will fold in the entirety of the School Board’s request, it will be the City Council which will make the final determination of revenues and expenditures for the coming FY11 budget in a decision it will reach in late April.

“We are not going to blink when we take this to the Council,” School Board member Kathy Chandler said tonight. “We’ve got to fight for this budget.” Board member Kieran Sharpe affirmed that the Falls Church Board “took a different approach from our neighbors” in focusing on an equitable outcome with a consolidation of services where possible and “keeping any cuts as far away from the classroom as possible.”