News

F.C. Council Denies Tech $ to Schools in Pair of 3-3 Votes

The Falls Church City Council, with a pair of 3-3 votes amounting to failure to pass motions on the deployment of the $3 million surplus from the recently-completed fiscal year, rejected the strongly-sought School Board request for $500,000 in technology upgrades for their students, putting the deployment of the surplus funds off to the next budget cycle. Mayor Nader Baroukh called for the votes at 10:30 p.m. EDT after appeals by Councilman Phil Duncan and David Tarter to postpone the vote until the Council’s seventh member, Vice Mayor David Snyder, couldn’t be present. Baroukh, Ira Kaylin and Johannah Barry voted to deny the funds, and Duncan, Tarter and Ron Peppe voted for them.

councilschoolclashThe debate raged on as School Board chair Susan Kearney speaks to Council. (News-Press photo)

The Falls Church City Council, with a pair of 3-3 votes amounting to failure to pass motions on the deployment of the $3 million surplus from the recently-completed fiscal year, rejected the strongly-sought School Board request for $500,000 in technology upgrades for their students, putting the deployment of the surplus funds off to the next budget cycle. Mayor Nader Baroukh called for the votes at 10:30 p.m. EDT after appeals by Councilman Phil Duncan and David Tarter to postpone the vote until the Council’s seventh member, Vice Mayor David Snyder, couldn’t be present. Baroukh, Ira Kaylin and Johannah Barry voted to deny the funds, and Duncan, Tarter and Ron Peppe voted for them.

Duncan said that, prior to the votes, he’d considered an option of the three supporters of the school funding to merely walk out of the meeting, which would have left the Council short of a quorum, but he decided against it. Councilman Ron Peppe agreed he would not favor that approach.

However, emotions ran very high in the meeting, with Peppe exclaiming at one point when Mayor Baroukh said “I don’t want to play any games” with the subject that he perceived that was done when a last-minute substitute motion was introduced in his absence at the Council’s last meeting, saying, “I would have flown back if I’d known.”

School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones, School Board chair Susan Kearney, School Board members Charlotte Hyland and Greg Rasnake all spoke during the petition period to the Council on why the technology funds are needed. They said the needs were fully discussed with the Council in the spring, but that they agreed to withhold the funds in an effort to help the Council balance its budget. So, when the surplus appeared at the end of the fiscal year, they immediately came back with a request for the funds.

Initially, in a joint meeting, the Council agreed. However, that changed when a last-minute substitute motion was introduced last month when Peppe and Snyder were absent.

“We are very disappointed. The children area going to have to wait another whole year for these upgrades,” Kearney told the News-Press after the vote.

The two 3-3 votes effectively “kicked the matter down to next spring,” Duncan said.

A motion by Tarter to split the surplus three ways, including a tax rebate to citizens, failed by the first 3-3 vote. A motion to salt the money away into capital improvement accounts, which passed 3-2 last month, also failed by a 3-3 vote.

Dr. Jones, in her comments, said, “It is not fair to our children” to be absent the means to do math assessment tests that require enhanced technology skills. “Students must drag, drop, build a chart, use a digital compass, and use a digitalized ruler. Children shouldn’t be practicing with a pencil and testing with a computer. We should be able to give our children the digital confidence to know that they have been prepared.”

“We are behind in technology, and we are on a mission to catch up,” she said. The schools, at all levels, need 500 iPads and 700 laptops.

Councilman Ira Kaylin insisted the schools have the money for this squirreled away in their fund balance. But School proponents strongly denied that. “There is no slush fund,” Rasnake said. Others stressed the transparency of the School Board’s budgeting, noting that denying raises and cutting programs, resulting in the School’s funding requests being unchanged since 2009 despite a 15 percent enrollment growth do not suggest any large sum of undeployed funds exist. “There is no unspent pot of money,” Peppe, a former School Board chair, insisted.

Council member Johannah Barry said the issue of deploying the surplus had nothing to do with the schools’ needs, but that “it is imprudent to use a one-time extraordinary surplus for operating funds.”