At its work session to provide guidance to Falls Church School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones, the School Board dismissed the express desire of the City Council to contain growth in its annual budget to 1.5 or 2.5 percent, and instead urged her to, in the words of chair Susan Kearney, “bring us what you think is required to run the kind of school system we need.”
The sentiment was shared by all members of the School Board present Tuesday night. They cited the landslide victory for the Mt. Daniel School bond referendum passed last month as evidence the community wants the quality of the schools maintained and is willing to pay for that.
Last night, at a meeting of the “Gang of Eight” City Council and School Board representatives, Mayor David Tarter said “there is a strong feeling to keep the tax rate flat,” adding “while we’re all for economic development, in the meantime we have to live within our means.” His urging to Kearney and other School Board representatives there was swiftly dismissed by Kearney stressing the goals of the school system being to maintain class sizes and competitive teacher compensation. She said that the goal on the latter policy is to minimally stay within five percent of the salaries offered in neighboring jurisdictions like Arlington and Fairfax counties, “We’re losing teachers to Arlington when they can pay $15-17,000 more,” Superintendent Jones chimed in.
Kearney said that holding the school board budget to 1.5 or 2.5 percent “will barely take care of utilities and health care costs, alone.
At tonight’s School Board work session, Vice Chair Justin Castillo and Lawrence Webb cited the referendum vote last month, and suggested that the public needs to be brought into the budget discussion on what it’s willing to pay for to keep quality schools. Board member Kieran Sharpe noted, “We’ve been operating with a lot of constraints as good soldiers all along, and still we’re being told we may, may be able to consider funding a new high school in five years.” It may be time, he suggested, to remove all non-school projects from the City’s capital improvement projects (CIP) priorities (such as City Hall and library renovations–ed.).” Castillo added the idea of a structured garage by the library at a cost of $25,000 per parking space “is insane,” Castillo added.