One of the oft-repeated arguments circulating around Falls Church in the aftermath of the City Council’s controversial 4-3 decision to deny almost $1 million of the School Board’s budget request has been that the School Board’s and the Superintendent’s “arrogance” was reflected in their refusal to accept the City Council’s guidance from last December to hold its budget request to a three percent increase.
First of all, in the history of Falls Church, School Boards have almost never complied with such “guidance,” and the reason is clear: It is not the job of the School Board to limit its function to holding down taxes. It is the job of the School Board to determine what the needs of the school system, and especially of its students, are and to let the City Council know what that translates into in terms of costs.
Much of the rancor among the number of noisy citizens on this subject avoids the subject of enrollment growth as the primary driver of the budget, and efforts of the system to remain competitive in retaining quality teachers and programs are admittedly challenged by that. The other factor is the very significant increases in health insurance and other costs over which the system has no control.
What are the Superintendent and the School Board supposed to do if they took seriously a Council mandate to arbitrarily hold down their budget needs to assuage the Council’s desire to cut a favorable political posture with the public? Some small sample of what that would involve actually occurred at the School Board work session last week when 45 minutes had to be spent to discuss the feasibility of scaling back access to copiers at the four campuses in order to save a laughably paltry sum.
That was such an exercise in folly, because as it was pointed out, moves like that are offset by the costs of lost teaching time due to longer lines and efforts to find new ways to get the work done. Unfortunately, it seems like the futility of that exercise was lost on most of the people who favored cutting the budget request.
It is easy to point fingers and charge “arrogance” instead of having to look at the hard realities of what it takes for a quality school system to maintain its excellence in the face of the hard facts of enrollment growth, higher fixed costs and competition.
This newspaper has been an eyewitness to much of the struggles of the school administration and its elected overseers, the School Board, to craft their budgets over many years. We have always been impressed by the remarkable dedication of almost everyone involved primarily to the students in their care and their education and well-being.
Traditionally, the City Council has respected this process and acceded to the compelling realities of the process, even in some of the toughest of times. But somehow that didn’t happen this year.