Local Commentary

The Little City Weed

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The Falls Church school community is being pressured by the mayor to accept a budget deal where council will agree to fund bonuses if the schools agree to forego salary increases. The bonus-only proposal is a dead-end deal which should be rejected as flawed public policy that denudes the investment city residents want to make in local schools.

 

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The Falls Church school community is being pressured by the mayor to accept a budget deal where council will agree to fund bonuses if the schools agree to forego salary increases. The bonus-only proposal is a dead-end deal which should be rejected as flawed public policy that denudes the investment city residents want to make in local schools.

Mr. Baroukh has hinted he has the four votes needed to deny the full funding of the school budget. He is asking the schools to forego salary increases. In exchange for the schools agreeing to the deal, he has promised to consider a city-schools revenue sharing model and will support the reduced school budget. The idea, articulated by council member Kaylin, is the city is in such a dire financial emergency it must cut its investment in all school costs which are pensionable.

To put it more succinctly, the mayor and the proponents of the bonus-only budget proposal are saying city teachers make too much money and either the city cannot afford to pay them and/or the schools are not worth the investment.

A couple of threshold observations:

First, the effort to control school costs would have more traction if it were more collaborative, transparent, and did not begin and end with same pool of local activists who have criticized schools for decades, in good times and bad, as being an experiment in “social engineering,” or aligned with the liberal CBC organization, or so inefficient and costly the schools should be absorbed by a neighboring jurisdiction. Separating narrow political agendas from financial issues is important to achieving consensus from city residents on whether or not they are willing to forego investing in schools.

Second, the current city council has developed a bad habit of trying to directly mange school operations. Schools are independent from city council in Virginia for good reasons. The willingness of the mayor and some council members to flaunt their disregard for the independence of schools under the guise of “financial crisis” is unprecedented. The pattern of thin-skinned hegemony politics recurrent in the present council should give pause to folks who support, or who at least are not openly antagonistic, to the schools.

The central flaw in the bonus-only proposal is it stops investing in schools by locking in salaries and removing school costs from the market by putting the cost into a closed model which cannot be sustained.

As an exaggerated example, a new teacher who makes $1000 in salary and gets a $500 bonus may be at market rate year one. But year two, the more experienced teacher has to go back to council with the same base salary and argue for – the same bonus? In a bonus-only model the flaw compounds itself as bonuses stagnant and school workers get trapped in a salary model different than competing jurisdictions. A bonus-only model leaches experienced teachers and quickly devolves the quality of schools.

The city should reject the seriously flawed bonus-only proposal being made by the current council.

 


Michael Gardner is a quixotic citizen and founder of the Blueweeds community blog.