Local Commentary

Editorial: No More School Cuts

The story on Page 1 of this edition about the rapidly-rebounding housing market in and around the City of Falls Church should settle the matter.

The locally-based realtors interviewed for the article concur that the boom now underway is, in the case of the City in particular, driven by the perceived quality of the school system here. The long-held “value added” of 10 to 15 percent in residential real estate values attributable to the superior reputation of the school system still holds.

So, as a rebound in real estate values is the key to a viable fiscal future for the City of Falls Church, it is sheer lunacy at this stage for the City Council to consider making further deep cuts in the School Board’s adopted budget.

The Council is now considering the consequences of scaling back further the amount in additional taxes needed to provide bare-bones funding for the schools. As School Board Chair Ron Peppe writes in a letter-to-the-editor in this edition, having already lowered its budget by $2 million below last year, “further cuts would severely compromise our ability to deliver quality instructional programs to our students and jeopardize our standing as one of the finest small school systems in the nation.”

We fully concur. It is absurd for the Council to insist that further spending cuts should come equally from the schools as from the general government. Cutting the baby down the middle, King Solomon style, will only kill the baby. The Council needs to make qualitative, not merely quantitative, value judgments, and above all, that means to recognize the City’s school system as its most valuable, and valued, asset.

The sunny prospects for a rebound in housing values in Falls Church reflected in the comments of the local realtors in this edition suggest that the near-depression that has assailed markets and values everywhere may not continue to cripple Falls Church’s finances as much as elsewhere.

Moreover, as also reported in this edition, the City of Falls Church has launched a robust defense this week of its right to extract a reasonable return on investment from its water fund. The appeal of the Fairfax Circuit Court decision barring such a practice was filed with the Virginia Supreme Court this week and should be resolved by the fall, in time for next spring’s budget considerations.

While credit markets for commercial development still remain virtually frozen, the rebound in residential real estate values and the prospect of the recovery of a $2.3 million annual return on the water system offer hope that, even within the coming year, the dismal fiscal situation now facing Falls Church will turn around.

This promise suggests to Falls Church’s taxpayers that a bigger than usual tax rate hike this year may be only temporary, but necessary to preserve what the City values most, and what the City is valued for most: namely, its school system.

More layoffs or furloughs on the City government side can be restored in the future, but cuts to the schools will damage far more than just the schools, but their wider reputation in perpetuity.