Angry Parents Assail F.C. School Board Mulling $1 Million in Cuts

A STANDING ROOM ONLY CROWD voiced anger with the Falls Church School Board on Tuesday, May 3, over the board mulling $1 million in cuts. (Photo: News-Press)
A STANDING ROOM ONLY CROWD voiced anger with the Falls Church School Board on Tuesday, May 3, over the board mulling $1 million in cuts. (Photo: News-Press)

A standing-room-only throng of parents and teachers in the Council chambers at the Falls Church City Hall Tuesday night vented anger and frustration at the Falls Church School Board, assailing the choices the board was faced with and initially made in the first hours after the F.C. City Council cut almost $1 million from the School Board budget request last week.

Assailed for lack of transparency and communication, the School Board and Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones were accused by angry parents of “ripping the heart out of a living organism” for proposing cuts that would diminish teacher raises and result in larger classroom sizes.

The budget cut proposals were exacerbated by the announcement earlier in the day that eight-year Principal Tyrone Byrd of George Mason High School has resigned as of June 30 (see story, elsewhere this edition). The surprise announcement marked the third resignation of a principal out of the four schools in the Falls Church school system, and was targeted by some angry parents who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting of “mismanagement” in the leadership of the system.

One specific proposal for a cut in the budget that the School Board floated last week involved the removal of an assistant principal position at the Mt. Daniel Elementary School. That brought the Mt. Daniel principal Kathleen Halayko to the speaker’s podium to object to the idea.

“Much to my surprise, included in this list (of initially-proposed cuts – ed.) was the Mt. Daniel assistant principal, a position that has been serving the school for six years. This decision was made without the courtesy of a discussion prior to the announcement, nor were pros and cons entertained,” she said.

“As the one person in this room who has worked both with and without an assistant principal, I am especially concerned about the impact this cut to the budet will have on our program,” she added, saying, “I am asking that you consider that a majority of personnel cuts come from Mt. Daniel in these budget cuts. Please consider the suggestion to reduce the amount of funding for salary improvements across the division so that cuts are fairly distributed and not felt disproportionately in one building.”

When she concluded her defense of the need for an assistant principal, she received a loud standing ovation from the tightly-packed in audience.

Following the public hearing component of the Tuesday meeting, the School Board began a budget work session, with many in the audience remaining. But as the work session went on and on, not finishing until 11:30 p.m., many parents and teachers left.

In the end, no final vote on the modified budget, to include the $912,600 in cuts, was taken, but it was decided to retain the assistant principal position at Mt. Daniel and to keep the initially-proposed 20 percent cut to increased salaries across the board that it had initially proposed last week. School Board member Phil Reitinger lamented, “We’re down to a bunch of bad choices,” and suggested that this might be the “new normal” that the system faces.

“Every cut will have a long-term impact because the cuts need to be sustainable,” added Board member Michael Ankuma.

But Board member Erin Gill complained that the options before the board were pre-vetted, meaning that “We’re being told what we can put in our take out of the budget” without having access to the whole thing. Dr. Jones responded, “I am trying to do the will of the School Board in what I present.”

“The bottom line is the kids,” said Board vice-chair John Lawrence, who was filling in as the chair of the meeting for Justin Castillo, who was traveling on business.

At the conclusion of Tuesday’s lengthy meeting, Jones and Chief Financial Officer Hunter Kimble were tasked wlith bringing back a revised list of possible reductions by the close of business on Thursday so that School Board members can build their own scenarios and come together next Tuesday, and the final vote will probably be May 17.

During the public petition period at the beginning of the meeting this Tuesday, parents had assailed a “lack of trust” and “lack of transparency” rooted in poor communication with the teachers, themselves. “Teachers need to be valued every day and not face fear of retaliation,” one said without being more specific. Another cited vague “scare tactics,” citing poor morale as a result and a failure to “value diversity of opinions and openness.”