All six members of the Falls Church School Board and Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones expressed strongly worded concerns at their meeting Tuesday night, ranging from “disappointed” to “appalled,” “shocked” and “flabbergasted” as the contents of a memo over the signature of F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields this week suggesting that their request to dip into their fund balance for $1.2 million to meet some urgent needs, including for security in the wake of recent school shootings, be deducted from whatever the schools’ request for Fiscal Year 2014 funding from the City.
Board members questioned where the language calling for the repayment came from, since it was not discussed in such terms at the joint meeting of the Council and School Board last week, and was not the subject of any Council-wide vote.
Veteran board member Kieran Sharpe, who has also served on the City Council, called the demands in the letter “edicts without any votes,” noting there was “no communication with us (the School Board-ed.) or invitation to discuss it.” He added, “The process is abysmal,” noting that after the School Board left the joint work session last week, members of the Council discussed the future of school properties among themselves and one proclaimed that the Council “conclusively decided ‘no’” on the idea of moving the site of Mt. Daniel.
“This is not a fair reckoning or communication with us over how we decide these things,” Sharpe charged, adding, as far as he was concerned, the Mt. Daniel option “remains on the table.”
Board member Justin Castillo asked, “Where did that mandate arise?” He called it a “hijacking of the normal process,” and said he couldn’t believe everyone on the Council supported the memo. “It boggles my mind,” he said.
Board member Greg Rasnake said he resented being “lectured” by the Council in the memo, and said the memo’s “expectation” that the School Board pay for the urgent needs out of their FY 14 budget was “flabbergasting.”
Board chair Susan Kearney said she will draft a letter to the Council expressing the board’s sentiments, which should be received before the Council is due to vote on the matter at its next regular business meeting next Monday, Jan. 28.
At issue is language added to Council Ordinance TO13-02, which is coming to the Council for a second reading this coming Monday night. The School request includes $52,000 to clean up two sewage events at the Henderson Middle School, $180,000 to replace two aging school buses, $180,000 to purchase two new school buses to address enrollment increase needs, $70,000 for new kitchen equipment, $100,000 for additional staffing due to enrollment growth, and $200,000 for security fencing at the George Mason High and Henderson Middle School campus.
The new introductory memo language from City Manager Wyatt Shields accompanying the ordinance, added following its initial OK by the City Council on Jan. 14, states, “At its Monday, Jan. 14 meeting, City Council members indicated their intent that in approving this mid-year budget amendment, that the School Board will address all or a significant portion of the loss of revenue from its fund balance through cost reductions in the FY14 budget request.”
The City Council at its work session also Tuesday brought the ordinance up for discussion, mostly on the need for close collaboration between the schools and the police department on the matter of the proposed security fence.
Occurring after the School Board concluded its meeting, School Board member Castillo arrived to witness the conversation.
But he and everyone in the room found that the subject of the Shields memo did not come up, at all.