Spotlight Now Shifts to City Manager for His Budget Plan Monday
The Falls Church School Board voted Tuesday night to formally request a transfer of funds from the City of Falls Church that represents a 12.9 percent one-year increase, driven by a phenomenal growth in enrollment.
The request is not as high as the 14.1 percent recommended last month by Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones, as some components Dr. Jones identified as “important” and “unfunded needs” were not included.
The adopted School Board budget is for $40,937,800, including a transfer from the City request of $33,682,700. The vote was 5-2, with Greg Rasnake and Craig Cheney voting no.
By law, in crafting his recommended budget to the City Council next week, City Manager Wyatt Shields must incorporate the full School Board request. Given guidance by the Council Monday night to keep his recommended budget to a projected 3.82 percent overall revenue growth rate, Shields faces an extraordinary challenge preparing his recommendations that he will present next Monday night.
School Board chair Susan Kearney said that there is a lot of discontentment with this budget due to the fact that few if any on the board think that the City Council will ultimately support its request. “It is almost insane in a city like this” that such is the case, she said.
But she said the request need not lead to a big tax rate increase, suggesting that current surpluses and high savings levels in the City could mitigate the higher costs.
Tuesday’s vote by the School Board followed two amendments that were introduced by Board member Greg Rasnake that both sought to increase the budget, but both failed.
Rasnake said the choice was between austerity and investment in growth, and that it will continue to be difficult for the schools to get the resources they need if they continue to ask for less than they need.
In fact, Rasnake favored a number $3.348 million higher than the Superintendent’s recommendation, in order to fund what the Dr. Jones called “identified, but not funded” needs. Rasnake said these needs include special education, English as a second language teachers, text book replacements, security cameras at all the school entrances and buses, and pay increases to make the system’s teachers the highest paid in the region.
“I think the community will support” paying for these needs, he said. “We don’t know what the community can afford.” He cited the Census data that places Falls Church first in the nation in household income, and said that any limits to pay “have been based only on anecdotal evidence.”
As School Board chair, Kearney used the distinctions Dr. Jones made in her recommended budget – identified as mandated, critical, important and unfunded identified needs – to present the board with four options. Dr. Jones’ budget proposing a a 14.1 percent increase in the requested transfer from the City called for funding aspects identified as mandated, critical and important, while “Scenario B” included all of what Dr. Jones identified as mandated and critical items, but nothing more, for an increase of 12.9 percent. “Scenario C” covered all mandated items and half the critical items for an increase of 9.8 percent, and “Scenario D” included only mandated items for an increase of 6.5 percent.
With the exception of Rasnake, who wanted the request to be higher, and Cheney who wanted it to be lower, the board – including Kearney, John Lawrence, Kieran Sharpe, Justin Castillo and Charlotte Hyland – settled on “Scenario B.”
That “scenario” will preserve small classes, improve teacher compensation, provide added security and enable the transition of the eighth grade to the Henderson Middle School and the fourth grade from the middle school to Thomas Jefferson elementary, Kearney said.
A graph presented during the discussions Tuesday showed that the division between the growth in City revenues and the size of the City’s transfers to the schools shows that, for the last three fiscal years, even as school enrollment has roughly paralleled the growth in City revenues, there have been successive gaps of $2.2 million, $3.6 million and $3.9 million. Added together, that means the schools have been underfunded, as a percentage of the total City revenues, by $9.7 million.
Ira Kaylin from the Falls Church City Council and City Chief Financial Officer Richard LeCondre were present to watch the School Board discussion and vote.