Falls Church Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones addressed a public meeting co-hosted by the City schools’ three PTA organizations in the cafetorium at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School Wednesday night, spelling out the parameters that will inform her coming fiscal year budget recommendations that she will formally introduce at a School Board meeting Tuesday.
In advance of Wednesday’s meeting, Dr. Jones provided the News-Press with the power-point presentation developed to form the basis for her remarks and projections.
Jones told the News-Press in supplementary remarks, “I need the community to understand that the principals, directors and teachers only ask for what they feel are really needed to maintain great schools. They do not constitute a ‘wish list.’”
According to her power-point, the schools will need to ask the City Council for considerably more than would be provided by the projected modest 2.3 percent increase in revenues coming to the City. The revenue projection, alone, would yield $880,900 more for the schools, but the requests from school principals and department leaders total $4,117,700.
Jones told the meeting Wednesday night that she will present her recommended budget Tuesday to cut those requests by about half, to a total of $2,120,700 but that would still require the City Council to come up with $1,131,200 over projected revenue growth levels.
Jones’ recommendations will call for an overall 5.6 percent increase in the requested transfer of funds from the City, almost half the 10.75 percent that the principals and department heads asked for.
Her recommendation would provide increases of $716,800 to maintain class sizes, $487,600 for fixed costs, $634,600 for teacher compensation and $281,700 for staff and administration compensation. Maintaining class sizes involves in her budget the addition of three classroom teachers, two special education teachers and two behavioral specialists.
Adding $634,600 for teacher compensation would recalibrate the scale of competitive teacher salaries in the region to bring Falls Church within three to five percent of neighboring Arlington.
“We adding new staff faster than ever in our history,” because of enrollment growth pressures, Jones said, and “the craft of teaching is changing more rapidly than ever in our history, making professional development critical.”
Such a bare bones budget recommendation, which would be subject to the School Board’s revisions prior to being sent to the City Council, will actually mark a significant cut in expenditures per student over the last decade, taking inflation into account. In fiscal years 2007 and 2008, the schools provided an average of over $14,000 per student, but that number tumbled to under $12,000 in 2011 and grew to over $12,000 last year, with an almost identical amount for this coming year.
Over that period, total school operating budget revenues have grown by $12,723,925, and salaries, benefits and wages have grown $12,057,977 over that same time frame, including adding 45 new teaching positions, leaving only $665,948 in additional dollars for everything else, such as maintenance and upkeep, materials, supplies, electricity, gas, technology, books, curriculum materials, professional development, buses, fuel and so forth.
Enrollment in the Falls Church public schools has ballooned from 1,871 students in the 2006-2007 year to 2,600 projected for next fall.
Dr. Jones’ priorities are informed, she said, by what the community, in a survey, defined as the top priorities for the schools, “keeping class sizes low and staying on track to close the teacher pay gap. We have made tremendous progress over the past three years in both of these areas,” Jones told the News-Press.
The bulk of the growth in the schools has come in the last four years, she added, and Thomas Jefferson Elementary has doubled in size. One grade was shifted back to Mt. Daniel, but the overall growth level far exceeded that grade level size.
The 495 responses to the November 2015 community survey saw that over 90 percent felt that class size was the top priority, and that 87 percent felt that teacher compensation was the second highest. In addition, just under half felt that maintaining or decreasing the overall tax rate for citizens was either “important” or “very important.”
Jones said that overall the School Board’s top six priorities are “21st century teaching and learning, excellent staff, modern, secure schools, readiness for learning, small classes and responsible fiscal management.”
With the presentation of her formal recommendations next Tuesday, the process kicks off for the development of the City of Falls Church’s overall Fiscal Year 2017 budget (to go into effect this July 1). The School Board will have its first work session with Dr. Jones’ recommendations on January 19.
After the School Board makes its modifications to Dr. Jones’ recommendations, it will forward its request to City Manager Wyatt Shields next month. Shields will then subsume that request in the overall City operating budget that he will recommend to the City Council in mid-March, and the Council will make its final decisions on the parameters of the budget, including any tax increases or cuts, by the end of April.