Local Commentary

Editorial: Even Worse Than We Imagined

Monday night’s Falls Church School Board work session, including its exchanges between F.C. Mayor Nader Baroukh and the School Board’s Joan Wodiska, revealed a level of ineptitude in the City Council’s bungling of the School Board request for badly-needed technology funds this summer beyond even our expectations.

Baroukh offered at one point that in preliminary talks about how to utilize the $3 million surplus from the budget year ending June 30 included providing the $500,000 the City schools desperately need to provide laptops and iPads for students at all levels of the system.

However, he conceded, someone’s opinion in the City Hall bureaucracy that the accounting for the money needed to be shifted into a different column of the budgetary ledger books suddenly changed everything. Suddenly the money was off the table. Seeming surprisingly oblivious to the very real lunacy this represented, the mayor blamed not himself, but this technicality for his vote to deny the funds earlier this month.

Wodiska, who in addition to serving on the Falls Church School Board since 2004 is president of the Virginia School Board Association was certainly not inclined to let the kind of accounting “smoke and mirrors” Baroukh alluded to deny badly needed upgrades to maintain the City’s world-class school system without a fight (more on these exchanges can be read in this edition’s coverage of the meeting).

There is a whole bushel basket full of problems that can be arrayed against the decision by Baroukh and his Council cohorts Johannah Barry and Ira Kaylin to deny the funds. But to us the most basic problem lies in an inability or unwillingness (we honestly can’t tell for sure which) of these Council members to see beyond a ledger book to the human realities of what they’re doing.

Nose buried in such ledger books, Kaylin didn’t see any problem in railing against the School Board, suggesting it is hiding a secret slush fund from the public. That’s a pretty serious charge, and ludicrous to anyone engaged with the School Board’s budgeting processes over many years. The audacity of that charge was picked apart bit by bit by the Schools’ financial officer Hunter Kimball at the school board session Monday night. No one had ever made such an outrageous charge against the School Board before, so it took a little while to pull together the data.

The bottom line is that the City, or any city or jurisdiction in a democracy, cannot be run like a heartless bank or corporation. Certainly financial prudence matters, but banks deliberately don’t look when families are being forced from homes by their foreclosure proceedings. The banks want to see only the numbers in their ledger books, nothing more.

That describes what happened this summer when three Council members foreclosed against the money for the schools’ technology needs. It was just in the ledger books, and not in the eyes of children and their hopes for the future.