Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Challenges Facing the F.C. City School Budget

As I prepare for my first budget season as the Falls Church City Public Schools Superintendent, I must first take this opportunity to say what a delight it is to live and work in such a dynamic community. Thank you for the gracious welcome to Falls Church City.

I feel fortunate to be supported by an outstanding school board and staff who will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of every child in Falls Church City Public Schools (FCCPS). As we begin to gear up for the budget season, there are some important key points that FCCPS will be focused on for the FY13 process. It can be said upfront that student learning remains our number one priority. Every child must be successful at FCCPS, and we must continue to grow and develop as a school division that is focused on world class education.

This year may pose several budget challenges for FCCPS. Note that I say ‘may,’ because it is very early in the process. The Superintendent’s recommended budget is simply that, only recommended. It does not become the FCCPS budget until a great deal of discussion, collaboration, and examination takes place over the course of the next two months. We will also be watching closely as individuals such as Delegate Scott and Senator Saslaw represent us on the home front with the legislative agenda in Richmond. This year’s legislative agenda is likely to be one of historical significance for school divisions across Virginia.

One challenge leading into FY 13, is a proposed increase in the Virginia Retirement System which – if the Governor’s recommendation comes to fruition – will be the largest increase in Virginia history. For FCCPS, this amount would account for an increased need in our budget by slightly more than a million dollars. Coupled with that increase is also an increase of $198,300 for VRS Life, and an increase of $196,000 for health benefits.

In order to recruit and retain outstanding individuals for our classrooms, we must take care of them.

Our School Board and staff are to be commended for their strong financial responsibility over the past few years in the way that stimulus funding was spent. We utilized the stimulus funding infusion from the federal government for onetime expenses, and did not rely on this funding for salaries. For FCCPS, we are experiencing a decrease of $541,100 from the FY 12 budget and moving forward. While this funding was able to assist in much needed curriculum areas, we can progress with positive strides.

Most importantly, in FY 13 we must hire teachers for our children. We held fast to a flat budget this year, and did not add staff. As a result, next year we need a minimum of five additional teachers for classroom expansion. Our growth this year was 4.5%, which was the greatest increase for us in the past 30 years. A difference in our budget this year is that we are not budgeting staff based on projections. Staffing recommendations are based on the students who are enrolled right now. If we did not add staff for next year, we would experience class sizes on five different elementary and middle school grade levels that would exceed 30 children in a classroom. We must hire staff for our children.

The FY13 budget recommends a salary increase for all staff members. In order to recruit and retain outstanding individuals for our classrooms, we must take care of them. We are in the competitive Northern Virginia teaching market, and in order to compete, we must compensate. While FCCPS is a small, unique school division, there comes a time when individuals will sadly choose to leave us because they simply can’t afford to stay. We must remain competitive. We want the best for our children.

FCCPS is working to operate more efficiently and this budget recommends consolidating functions within our Central Office. We are consolidating our Human Resources offices and Curriculum Office to create the Office of Curriculum Innovation and Personnel. We are also eliminating the testing coordinator position, and realigning duties and responsibilities to operate more effectively. We began the consolidation process early this year by making reductions in our technology department – increasing efficiency and decreasing costs. We have worked to consolidate through natural attrition so that specific individuals are not losing their jobs.

Our consolidation efforts are allowing us to reinvest resources to hire needed staff. The total savings from our consolidation and realignment is $335,700 – or the equivalent of 4.2 teachers. I commend our Central Office for embracing a new vision.

The recommended budget equates to an operational increase from the city transfer of $2,042,200. I caution that it’s early in the process. These numbers are just recommendations as we wait on legislative updates and school board review. Please don’t hesitate to log on to www.fccps.org to follow our budget updates. I am proud to be your superintendent, and I welcome your suggestions and questions.