At its lengthy work session Monday night, a majority on the Falls Church City Council expressed its desire to slash $912,000 from the School Board’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget request in order to avoid a 2.5 cent real estate tax rate hike in the budget it is expected to finalize next Monday night.
After that was established, School Board chair Justin Castillo addressed the Council briefly saying its plans will introduce “savage cuts” to the schools in their struggle to maintain excellence in the context of explosive enrollment growth. “We’ve worked hard to present needs and not wants in our budget request,” he said, and joined Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones in telling Council “we don’t have a lot of options because we’ve already cut in many places.” Jones anticipated that the cut, if the Council adopts its budget with these cuts next Monday, would have to come from teacher salaries and the elimination of plans to hire any new teachers to accommodate the enrollment growth. She intimated that class sizes would have to go up to 27 or 29 students per classroom under such conditions.
The School Board is slated to meet Monday to address the proposed cuts.
Monday night, Council member Karen Oliver, one of only two on the Council (along with Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly) who favored fully funding the School Board budget request by voting for the 2.5 cent real estate tax rate increase, said that a “flat (no increase) tax rate sounds like pandering to the public.” She argued that “fiscal discipline to me means the need to actually pay for what you want.” Connelly’s argument was similar, saying that a small rate increase delivers “what people want in Falls Church, including small class sizes.”
The plan from Monday also included an additional roughly $300,000 in cuts in the City side operational budget that would include the City’s commitment to absorb an unexpected $240,000 increase in health care premium costs to School employees and an $100,000 unexpected health care premium cost increases for City employees.