Off and on over the course of the roughly 60 years since the City of Falls Church was established as an independent jurisdiction and the Falls Church School System was also established as an independent entity, there have been tangles between the two over the fundamentally different roles of each.
These clashes have almost always involved a Council, feeling under pressure to keep taxes low while adopting an annual budget, to cause the School Board to deviate from its core mission and accept responsibility for what is strictly a Council function.
Namely, instead of focusing on the care and feeding of the school system, including all of its students, teachers, staff and facilities, the School Board has sometimes been lured into participating in the Council’s tough budget deliberations.
Never has this pressure on the School Board been felt stronger than at this Monday’s joint work session between the Council and School Board, which was billed as an effort to reach “consensus” on “early guidance to the City Manager and his staff” in crafting the parameters of next spring’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget.
Indeed, in the name of “consensus building,” some on the Council, including Mayor Nader Baroukh and Councilman Ira Kaylin, clearly sought to cause the School Board to “buy in” at this early stage on fiscal constraints for its next budget request.
In short, the School Board was pressured Monday to essentially agree in advance to the size of its budget, without an opportunity for it to assess the actual needs of the system over the next months. They were being pressured to sign away any claim to their proper role as caretakers of the school system in favor of randomly and arbitrarily inking their names to a largely unknown fiscal straight jacket.
It has heartening to see all the City’s elected School Board members present at Monday’s meeting follow the strong lead of the board’s chair Joan Wodiska and forcefully reject Baroukh’ s call to get all in the room to agree on fiscal parameters in time to adopt a formal resolution on the matter by this coming Monday.
In all our years, we’ve never seen such a ham-handed attempt to bend the will of the School Board to assume the Council’s responsibility for an upcoming budget.
No doubt, the Council is facing some daunting decisions in the coming year as real estate values remain flat, being the primary source of revenue for the City’s operating budget, and the burden of federal and state mandates grow as the levels of federal and state funding shrinks in the ongoing economic recession.
But as this Monday’s meeting evidenced, pressures on the Schools due to the same mandates and robust enrollment growth, as well. The School Board has barely begun to adequately assess the consequences in terms of the schools’ needs for the coming fiscal year.
Then, there are assumptions about fund balance levels, among others, that still need to undergo serious review.