Face-Saving Deal May Be in Works To Fund F.C. Schools’ Tech Needs

‘You Buy, We Promise To Reimburse’ Offer To Schools is Floated

A possible facing-saving plan is in circulation behind the scenes this week that permits the Falls Church City Council to stand firm with its decision this month not to use a portion of the $3 million surplus from the last year’s budget cycle to pay for technology upgrades at the City schools on the one hand, while providing for those upgrades, on the other.

According to News-Press sources, the scheme involves a promise from the City Council that if the Schools front for the $500,000 in technology needs, then the Council will promise to “hold harmless” the schools for the money in the next budget cycle.

Asked to comment yesterday, F.C. School Board chair Susan Kearney confirmed that she’s been approached by Mayor Nader Baroukh with just such an idea.

She said she told the mayor that she would take the matter before the entire School Board for consideration. The earliest that can happen is at a scheduled School Board work session this coming Monday night when the board will make decisions on the process to replace its member, Rosaura Aguerrebere, who resigned earlier this month.

But if the tech upgrades, involving the provision of laptops and iPads to students at all levels of the system, are to be introduced near the onset of the new school year beginning right after Labor Day, then the action will need to be swift.

However, the News-Press has also learned that there are concerns about this latest proposal for the way it crosses the line between the separate domains of City Council and School Board policy. It would effectively amount to the City Council mandating that the School Board spend its resources in a specific way if it intends to get reimbursed by the Council, and that would be overstepping.

The City Council, meanwhile, is formally closed for business until a work session on Tuesday, Sept. 4, the day that the schools open. Its first business meeting, where votes can be taken to allocate resources, will not be until Sept. 10. At both meetings, a draft ordinance to amend the Fiscal Year 2013 budget is on the agenda, which could be amended further based on any verbal deals hashed out between the Council and School Board.

Vice Mayor David Snyder is expected to be in attendance at both those meetings. His unavailability due to business travel commitments during two Council meetings earlier this month left no less than three budget amendment votes to fail by 3-3 votes. Snyder did not return inquiries from the News-Press this week to comment on those votes.

Meanwhile, there are already strong indicators that the schools will be pressuring the City Council for even more resources during the next budget cycle, if not sooner.

Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones told a community meeting at the American Legion lodge last week that preliminary numbers are indicating a major uptick in enrollment at George Mason High School from 880 at the end of the year in June to 940 for the start of the new school year next month.

She said that all the School system’s $150,000 contingency fund will “probably be gone tomorrow” as new classes in English, math and science are being contemplated to accommodate the surge of enrollment growth.

Her report came in the midst of a community forum organized by the Falls Church Republican Committee which, because more than two F.C. Council members were scheduled to appear, had to be hastily converted into a special meeting of the Council by the City Clerk. Since Freedom of Information Act laws prohibit more than two Council members from assembling together to talk about items that may come before it, Clerk Kathy Buschow said the formal step of converting the meeting into a special session called by the acting city manager was required.

Mayor Baroukh and fellow Council members Ron Peppe, Ira Kaylin, Johannah Barry and David Tarter were on hand to listen to citizen input and answer questions on a range of subjects, but the hottest issue was how the Schools’ need for the $500,000 in technology upgrades may yet be met.

On the replacement of Aguerrebere, Kearney told the News-Press that her position will be filled by an appointment from the School Board who will serve to the end of her term on Dec. 31, 2013. Meanwhile, an election of a candidate to fill the slot will be held in November 2013, when entire slates of City Council and School Board candidates will be on the City ballot.