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F.C. School Board Scrambles To Find Ways to Cut Programs

FALLS CHURCH SCHOOL BOARD members (left to right) Erin Gill, Michael Ankuma, Margaret Ward and Lawrence Webb were four among six School Board members present Tuesday night to mull the grim options for deeper cuts in the School Board budget ahead of the final City Council vote on the budget Monday night. (Photo: News-Press)
FALLS CHURCH SCHOOL BOARD members (left to right) Erin Gill, Michael Ankuma, Margaret Ward and Lawrence Webb were four among six School Board members present Tuesday night to mull the grim options for deeper cuts in the School Board budget ahead of the final City Council vote on the budget Monday night. (Photo: News-Press)

Three scenarios for how to cut $912,600 from the Falls Church School Board’s adopted Fiscal Year 2017 budget were delineated by Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones late yesterday afternoon in anticipation of the City Council cutting that sum when it votes on the budget Monday night.

Following Monday’s work session of the Falls Church City Council when a majority of four members came out in favor of eliminating any increase in the real estate tax rate thus mandating cuts of $912,600 from the Falls Church School Board’s adopted budget, the School Board assembled in a work session of its own the next night to assess the situation and begin to make some very difficult decisions.

It was an exasperated School while Board and City school staff wrestled Tuesday night with the hard realities of cutting $912,600 from the budget it submitted in February. Meeting at School Board headquarters to face up to the prospects of a draconian funding cut by the City Council below the numbers requested to cope with rising enrollment and pressures to remain competitive for teacher compensation with neighboring jurisdictions, the School Board mulled cuts proposed by Superintendent Jones and Chief Financial Officer Hunter Kimble.

After a lengthy discussion, the board tasked Jones and Kimble to delineate scenarios for implementing the required cuts, which they provided to the public late yesterday afternoon. The three scenarios are the following:

Scenario 1 – Eliminate staff salary improvements, including teacher salaries ($634,600), support staff step increase ($226,800), and leadership team step increase ($54,900).

Scenario 2 – Eliminate staff and reduce salary improvements, including three elementary classroom teachers ($307,200), a first grade paraprofessional ($16,300), a part-time elementary gifted teacher ($51,200), a high school computer science teacher ($106,800), a systemwide project assistant ($53,200), a Mt. Daniel assistant principal ($130,000) and a reduction in teacher salary improvements by one-third ($220,000).

Scenario 3 – Across-the-board reductions, including elimination of six staff positions (elementary classroom teacher, high school computer science teacher, Mt. Daniel assistant principal, elementary gifted teacher, first grade paraprofessional and systemwide project assistant) for $464,300, reduce materials and supplies ($127,500), reduce or eliminate programs ($62,000), reduce non-salary compensation $102,800), reduce teacher salary improvements by 20 percent ($110,000), and reduce emergency reserve ($46,000).

“These are informational only. After seeking community input the School Board will weigh all options,” Dr. Jones said in a note attached to the scenarios.

It was noted Tuesday that the cuts would only ensure that the Schools will be in even greater need for additional funding next year “I am sick over this,” commented Assistant School Superintendent Lisa High, saying that the programs fundamental to the successful hiring, training and retention of quality teachers are being seriously compromised.

Dr. Jones noted that the cuts will put the schools only further behind next year in the campaign to remain competitive for teacher salaries, with another large increase in their obligations to the Virginia Retirement Fund also coming on line next year.

Coming out of Monday’s City Council work session, there appear to be at least four (out of seven) Council members resolved to vote a budget this coming Monday that will have no real estate tax rate increase, keeping the current level of $1.315 per $100 of assessed valuation. To have given the Schools what they requested in February, according to City Manager Wyatt Shields, a 2.5 cent rate increase would be required.

Yet there has been no public discussion by the Council of alternatives that could keep the tax rate the same as last year and still fund the Schools at their requested level. Such alternatives include taking one percentage point off the current level at which the City maintains a highly uncommonly-inflated fund balance of 17 percent of annual operating budget expenditures.

Jones said Tuesday night, “There are very few things on this list of cuts that are not controversial.” She added that the cuts “will impact housing values eventually.”

School Board chair Justin Castillo, in a commentary crafted after Tuesday’s work session and published elsewhere in this edition, wrote that a Council-mandated cut of $912,600 from the Board requested $2,065,000 increase in the City transfer over last year “would almost certainly increase average class size (a process that is difficult to reverse) and hurt staff pay.”

While “some are concerned about future capital and claim that restricting operating expenses by keeping the tax rate flat is one way to plan for the future,” he wrote, “I believe that a better way to prepare for the future is to fund present needs while carefully preparing for the future in a way that helps to fund operating and capital needs in a responsible manner.”

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