Global Turmoil, Revolutions Translate Into School Enrollment Growth in F.C.

Turmoil in the Middle Eastern nations of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen, among others, has held the attention of the world for several months. These uprisings and revolutions have hit home, very much at home in the case of Falls Church. They’ve had a big impact already on burgeoning new enrollment in the Falls Church School System since January, and in tough budget times, how the City schools are coping with this is no mean matter.

With the addition of more than 30 children to the City of Falls Church school system, almost a third of those attending George Mason High school, the League of Women Voters of Falls Church held a discussion at the Falls Church Community Center last Thursday.

The purpose was to allow parents and citizens concerned about the financial impact of the sudden increase in the number of students to meet a parent and student who were forced to flee Egypt during the revolution.

Ellen Salsbury, the president of the Falls Church chapter of the League of Women Voters, introduced the panelists: Falls Church Schools Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin; long-time Falls Church resident Linda Garvelink, wife of the ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, William Garvelink; Leslie Brant Teixeira, director of the State Department’s Family Liaison Office; Leah Wallace, the education and youth officer for the State Department’s Family Liaison Office; and Elizabeth Braden and her daughter, Phoebe.

Elizabeth Braden and her children were evacuated from Egypt on Jan. 31 and said she was told by other evacuees at the Cairo airport to “go to Falls Church for the schools.”

Phoebe was a high school senior in an American-run school in Cairo and attended last week’s meeting here to tell the audience about the events in Egypt, her reaction to George Mason High School and how the family is adjusting to life in the City’s Oakwood Apartments complex, often used by the U.S. State Department to temporary house families it works with, while her father is still in Egypt.

“People have been so welcoming and accommodating since we got here,” said Phoebe. She currently takes two classes on the George Mason High School campus and does the rest online in order to graduate by the end of this school year.

“Even though we’re new in town, nobody has told us to leave, and I consider that to be a true expression of patriotism,” she added.

Mrs. Braden’s slight worries about “being told to leave” stem from concerns that the addition of more students to the Falls Church school system will add further costs to schools that are already facing restrictive budget issues of their own.

Berlin stated that while the number of students coming into the Falls Church system from countries currently undergoing political upheavals will undoubtedly rise, the school system will not be able to add more teachers to compensate for the rise in students due to a lack of funding.

Some members of the U.S. Foreign Service who have children in the school system voiced concern that families who’ve lived in the Oakwood Apartments complex with students in the Falls Church School System — many of whom work for the State Department and other government agencies — might not pay their adequate share of taxes to help fund school operations.
While it was not determined how much in the way of real estate taxes Oakwood residents pay or how that money makes it into the school system, Dr. Berlin indicated that the Falls Church City Council has plans to look further into the issue at some point in the future, but not likely in the midst of its current budget deliberations. It has only until April 25 to complete its decisions on the Fiscal Year 2012 budget that goes into effect this July 1.

The issue of how Falls Church school teachers should be paid in light of a declining economy, a lack of available revenues and a sudden influx of new students from conflicted areas, those like the Bradens, remains unresolved for the time being.