F.C. Council, School Board Already On New Budget Collision Course

Jones Says Schools Need 14.8% Boost In Transfer from City

Falls Church School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones presented an enrollment-growth-driven recommended budget to the School Board tonight that called for a net increase of $3,231,000, an 8.5 percent increase to $41,389,240. With resources expected to decline from other sources, her budget’s dependency on a transfer of funds from the F.C. City Council accounts for 83 percent of the total for $34,405,800, or a 14.8 percent increase.

Meanwhile, across town at City Hall, the City Council was being told by City Manager Wyatt Shields that with an expected overall growth of revenues at 3.88 percent over the previous year, a transfer to the schools at six percent would leave the real estate tax rate unchanged, but each percent above six percent would add the equivalent to a penny on the tax rate. Thus, Dr. Jones’ proposed budget would require an 8.8 cent increase in the tax rate from its current $1.27 level to $1.36.

School Board chair Susan Kearney introduced Dr. Jones for her budget recommendation tonight by stressing that the School Board wanted Dr. Jones to present a budget based only on the actual needs of the system, ignoring other pressures such as guidance from the City Council.

Dr. Jones noted that the system has experienced a whopping increase in enrollment since 2005. up from 1,872 then to 2,272 by 2012, with half the increase coming in just the previous two years. The number is expected to approach 2,400 by the end of the next school year.

She broke out categories of increase mandated by state and federal law, then “critical need” categories associated with the enrollment growth. Her budget also includes a step salary increase for all staff and a one percent “scale adjustment,” as well as health insurance, retirement fund and health aide salary adjustment increases.

Combined, those added costs total $3,231,100 in operating expenses (led by hiring to meet current enrollment needs of $1,670,500, step increases of $730,000, one percent scale adjustment of $295,300 and safety and security upgrades of $236,000).

The School Board will have its first work session to address Dr. Jones’ budget next Tuesday, Jan. 29, followed by a Feb. 9 public hearing, a regular School Board meeting Feb. 12, a second public hearing and work session Feb. 26, and its adoption of its budget to forward to the City Council on March 5.

Jones’ budget framework was a “Five Pillars of Excellence,” including small schools, small classes, 21st century teaching and learning, readiness to learn and outstanding staff.

While the schools have experienced a 25 percent enrollment growth since 2007, the cost per student in the school budgets since that time dropped by eight percent by 2012, and would hopefully come to a net one percent increase by 2014, as she presented it. The City’s contribution per student also dropped to a decline of 12 percent below 2007 levels by 2012, and would, under her recommendation, rise to a net one percent increase by 2014.

In the context of the record enrollment growth, she indicated, additional staff mandated by state and federal laws are for a Mason finance and economic teacher, an additional assistant principal at Jefferson elementary, an additional part-time speech teacher, two additional special education teachers, and an “encore teacher” to cope with growth at Jefferson.

In the category of “critical needs,” Jones listed two additional bus drivers to handle two additional routes, an additional food service staff member, an additional behavioral specialist for the elementary schools, an equivalent one-and-a-half additional reading teacher for elementary, and an additional custodian to handle the added 22,000 square feet now being added onto Jefferson Elementary.

She also said that four security officers, one at each of the City’s four schools, are “critical needs,” as well as the upgrade of intercoms, buzzers, and other equipment.