By a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Falls Church School Board adopted a budget for the coming fiscal year that will seek a 5.4 percent increase in the transfer from the City, a number almost identical with what Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones proposed to kick off the board’s budget deliberations in January. The School Board voted for a total operating budget of $48,623,400, a five percent increase over this year, that includes a requested transfer from the City of $40,362,000, up by 5.4 percent from this current year’s $38,298,700.
“This is almost unheard of, for a School Board to be in such concurrence with the Superintendent on the budget,” Hunter Kimble, the School’s chief financial officer, told the News-Press after Tuesday’s vote. The vote was 6-0, with one member Erin Gill absent due to illness and another, Phil Reitinger, whose vote counted, who attended via telephone.
“This was a tough budget, with no more money but more kids,” said board vice chair John Lawrence. “But we got it done in time and with consensus.” Board chair Justin Castillo chimed in, “Our mission is to provide high quality free K-12 education, with our ultimate accountability being to the students. We worked well as a board and I am pleased with the contributions of everyone.” Reitinger added, over the speaker phone, “We did the best for our students by doing the best for our teachers and for the means for them to do [their] jobs.”
Jones’ recommendations made in January called for an overall 5.4 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 but more than the City Council had hoped for.
Her recommendations provided 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 involved 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’re 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 actually marked 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 were informed, she said, by what the community, in a survey, defined as the top priorities for the schools which included 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 said.
The School Board budget adopted Tuesday, the details hammered out at a work session Saturday morning, modified Dr. Jones’ recommendations only marginally. It added $19,700 for a “topped out bonus,” an additional half-time teacher for the gifted and talented, an increase of $27,500 for additional instructional supplies, $50,000 for a CO project assistant and $10,000 for a teacher workforce climate survey. It cut from the Superintendent’s budget $10,000 for legal services, $50,000 for a communications assistant and $98,400 from the contingency fund.
The School Board budget now goes the City Manager, who is required by law to add it without changes to his City operating budget recommendation to the City Council that will be forthcoming in two weeks, including whatever changes in the real estate and other tax rates may be required to achieve a balanced budget overall, which the City Council will have until the end of April to shape for the coming fiscal year that will begin July 1.