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F.C. School Board Lashes Out At Long-Term $ Assumptions

townhallBoard Also Stands Against Capital Plan to Relocate Offices to City Hall

At a joint work session on the City of Falls Church’s budget projections for the next five years held at City Hall last Thursday, members of the F.C. School Board lashed out at arbitrary assumptions built into the projections that growth of the school budget will remain at a fixed two to three percent annually.

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About two dozen citizens and a large contingent of City Hall staff, City Council, School Board and Planning Commission members attended a Town Hall on the Falls Church FY12 budget at the Community Center last Saturday morning. (Photo: News-Press)
Board Also Stands Against Capital Plan to Relocate Offices to City Hall

At a joint work session on the City of Falls Church’s budget projections for the next five years held at City Hall last Thursday, members of the F.C. School Board lashed out at arbitrary assumptions built into the projections that growth of the school budget will remain at a fixed two to three percent annually.

The long-term projections presented by F.C. Finance Director Richard LaCondre Thursday were designed to assist the Council in setting priorities for its current deliberations on the FY2012 between now and its formal adoption of the annual budget at the end of April.

LaCondre conceded he was presenting a “very conservative” set of projections, based on the uneven and unpredictable record of the last three years’ fiscal numbers. His projections overall indicated a virtual flatline in terms of added revenues. “I want to be wrong about this,” he said. “But I think there will be a ‘new normal.'”

School Board chair Joan Wodiska and board members Kieran Sharpe and Greg Rasnake assailed the projections between FY2013 and 2016 for City expenditure transfers to the schools, which LaCondre listed as between two and three percent.

“That projection is based on no facts,” Rasnake said. Wodiska added, “There is no assessment of enrollment growth, fuel costs or any other factors. You can’t ignore these figures.”

“We’re already hearing pressure against salary increases for our staff based on their potential implications for the out years,” Wodiska protested.

She added that LaCondre’s no growth revenue projections don’t reflect indications that economic development is heating up, including the immediate impact of the new BJ’s Wholesale Warehouse and the Mad Fox brew pub, as well as the Akridge project on N. Washington and the Hilton Garden Inn plans on West Broad.

“Why should we base our projections on numbers from the single largest recession” of the last three years, she asked.

In another School Board salvo at the City Hall, in its adoption of its Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) proposed budget Tuesday night, the School Board expressed an explicit opposition to spending funds on School Central Office accommodation in new City Hall construction.

“Discussions on consolidating the Central Office space with the General Government has not been fully researched or discussed and should not appear in any plans until that process takes place,” the School’s CIP document states. “Let the record show that the School Board is opposed to spending funds on Central Office accommodation in the City Hall construction project when the need for added capacity and classroom space continues to be great in our school buildings.”

Last Saturday, at a Town Hall meeting on the Falls Church budget held at the Community Center, the vice chair of the F.C. School Board confirmed that in the wake of the Egyptian and other political upheavals in the Middle East, the tiny F.C. school system was suddenly challenged to absorb 30 new students in just the last two months.

Patrick Riccards told the two dozen citizens assembled, in addition to City officials, that U.S. State Department employees have confirmed that the State Department encourages U.S. citizens coming back to the Washington D.C. area from overseas, including State Department employees, to consider locating in the City of Falls Church because of the quality of its school system. This, he said, is despite official denials from State Department spokesmen.

“In a school system of 2,100 students, when we suddenly get an additional 30 students in the middle of the school year, we feel it,” Riccards said. “But don’t worry about it. We are in good shape.”

F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields confirmed that his staff is “looking into” issues related to this, especially given that when the Department of Defense relocates significant numbers of its people to a new area, the school system in that area is compensated to help bear the added costs.

“But I have to say, it is an honor to serve those State Department families,” Shields added. Many of the families come to reside at the Oakwood Apartments, F.C. Commissioner of the Revenue Tom Clinton said, and that entity is taxes as a commercial, not residential, property, including with an added short-term occupancy tax that applies only for 30 days.

“It is very challenging getting taxes out of those folks once they move back overseas,” Clinton conceded.

This Tuesday, no citizens appeared at the School Board’s bi-monthly public business meeting to comment on the budget.

The board went on to give final approval to its five-year CIP budget proposal, noting that the cost of new construction in order to reconfigure grade levels to accommodate growing capacity needs can be achieved at a fraction of earlier projections.

This is due to the School Board’s receipt of a no-interest $3 million Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB) from the Virginia Department of Education earlier this month. It will be issued on or about July 1, and the City has up to six months after that to spend at least 10 percent of it.

Whereas the earlier projected costs were $800,000 for the FY13 CIP budget and $30 million for FY14, under the new plan, debt service costs will drop from $3.1 million a year to $1 million and $42 million over the life of anticipated financing.

The plan, which includes the acquisition of the Child Development Center at 111 N. Cherry St., calls for $5,950,000 in FY12 new construction funding ($3 million covered by the QSCB) and $4 million in FY13 to achieve the following:

• Moving the fifth grade back to Thomas Jefferson (TJ) Elementary, adding a dozen classrooms and enlarging the cafeteria and other common spaces at a cost of $5,950,000 million in Phase I.

• Completing Phase II at TJ, and moving the eighth grade back to Henderson Middle School after a combined $4 million in improvements.

• As a result, with just four grades (9-12), enabling George Mason High to grow in its existing space.

• Acquiring use of the City-owned Child Development Center, currently being leased at $1 a year, upon the expiration of the current lease, by Fall 2012, allowing for the location of the combined City and school preschool programs there, and freeing up classroom space at the Mt. Daniel Elementary.

 

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