Push Back from F.C. Teachers Begins Vs. Zero-Growth Budget

More than two dozen teachers and staff members in the Falls Church City Public School system crowded the City’s School Board meeting Tuesday night, pressing for a salary increase in face of a zero-growth budget recommended earlier this month by Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin.

Berlin recommended no increase, but that has drawn criticism not only from teachers but some members of the School Board, which will continue to debate that and other budget issues before voting to forward its budget request to the City Manager on Feb. 15.

The hearing, the first in front of the School Board during its current deliberations, followed a grim assessment presented by School Board chair Joan Wodiska to the F.C. City Council Monday. Wodiska said that, after attending meetings with faculty and staff of all four City schools, reported that morale “is at an all-time low” in the schools, and “stress levels are palpable.”

She told the Council that teachers complained of growing class sizes and diminished “quality time” with students, due to the eight percent cut in the school budget last year.

She added that a “zero growth” school budget this year also means a cut, given increased enrollment and other factors, and that following a seven-and-a-half School Board work session last Saturday left the board members considering budget requests ranging from zero growth to a four percent increase.

She reported that teachers she and Vice Chair Pat Riccards met with said they’d prefer smaller class sizes and avoiding layoffs more important than pay increases.
The School Board is expected to forward its budget request to the City Manager on Feb 15 and its next public airing will be at a pair of town hall meetings on the Schools’ and the City’s overall budget priorities this Saturday, Jan. 29 at 10 a.m. and Monday, Jan. 31, at 7:30 p.m. at the Community Center.

Joel Block, former president of the Falls Church Education Association and now head of the Schools’ Professional Employees Advisory Council (PEAK) told the School Board Tuesday, “It is imperative that teachers get a step increase this year.”

He intoned, “If we do not have a step increase, we will not be able to attract quality teachers to our district.”

Block noted that a third of all teachers in Arlington, Fairfax, Alexandria and Falls Church will be leaving in the next two years. “When they leave,” he said, “All the districts will be trying to get quality people to replace them.”

He asked rhetorically, “Would you come to a school district that wonders if it can even keep what it has, let alone fund salaries? How will we be able to attract quality people in Falls Church if we don’t give raises when the other school districts do? Would you come here to work if you had similar options in Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax that paid more? Would you come to work in a school district that constantly has to fight to prioritize funding the schools when you had other options?”

He said that many teachers delayed their retirement due to the bad economy, but now that a recovery is underway and the value of their pension funds has begun to be restored, they’re readying retirement now. “The schools are going to have as many as five year’s worth of retirees walking out the door in the next two years,” he said.

“We have a three-to-five year backlog of turnover that is going to hit every school district,” he added, noting that since the same situation faces all districts in the region, the competition will be great. “Everyone knows that quality teachers are the key to good schools. Are we willing to have a staff of other people’s leftovers?”