Leading members of the Falls Church City Council and School Board, gathered for their regularly-scheduled pow-wow at City Hall this morning, came away sharply divided over how the $3 million surplus left over from the fiscal year that ended last month should be deployed. Mayor Nader Baroukh and School Board chair Susan Kearney locked horns to the end; among other Council members present, three – David Tarter, Ron Peppe and Phil Duncan – expressed support for the School Board position, while Council member Ira Kaylin sided with the mayor and Council member Johannah Barry remained silent. The matter comes up next at a Council work session on Monday night, and a final vote on the deployment of the funds will come to the City Council on Aug. 13.
The School Board contends that $500,000 of the surplus is badly needed to “play catch-up” on technology upgrades after years of austerity budgets needed to meet the City’s fiscal crises. Barouk, Kaylin and Barry supported a measure that passed the last Council meeting, 3-2 (2 members absent) which designated all of the surplus for capital improvement or “pay as you go” projects for the schools and City operations only, specifically excluding the use of $500,000 for the technology upgrades.
Kearney said that, speaking for her board, said that the Council should not dictate how money allocated to the schools should be spent. She spoke after School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones laid out what appeared to be dire needs for laptops and other computers available to students throughout the system.
Baroukh said he was concerned that deployment of the $500,000 for that use, when there are other dire needs around the City, as well, could create the impression that “once again, the schools are getting their way.” He proposed using carryover funds from the previous year that the schools build into their next budgets for the technology needs, at least until next spring.
However, it was pointed out that those carryover funds have already been budgeted in the current year, and that to use them would mean denying funds budgeted already to hire teachers and so forth.
Tarter said he was in favor of a plan that would give the $500,000 to the schools they need, give $500,000 to City operations and rebate the remainder of the surplus back to taxpayers. After the formal meeting broke up, Duncan said he favored that balanced approach, as well.