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F.C. School Board Settles on $912,600 in New Budget Cuts

MEMBERS OF THE George Mason High School Robotics team that advanced to the world championships in St. Louis earlier this month were invited to pose with members of the Falls Church School Board Tuesday night. (Photo: News-Press)
MEMBERS OF THE George Mason High School Robotics team that advanced to the world championships in St. Louis earlier this month were invited to pose with members of the Falls Church School Board Tuesday night. (Photo: News-Press)

After yet another lengthy work session Tuesday night, the Falls Church School Board settled on how it will handle $912,600 it was mandated to cut from its coming fiscal year budget request by the F.C. City Council last month.

Salvaged from original proposals on the chopping block were the assistant principal position at Mt. Daniel School, an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program coordinator, two elementary school teacher positions, a half-time specialist for gifted students and other personnel positions.

The board will meet at 7 a.m. Friday to formally vote on a final version of its $47.7 million budget for the coming year that will include a $39.6 million transfer from the City. The School Board held numerous work sessions, and open hearings for public input, to figure out where the $912,600 in cuts from its original budget crafted in February would come.

Enrollment increases, increased health insurance and other cost increases beyond the district’s control, diminished help from the state, and efforts to continue the effort to become more competitive in teachers’ salary rates to the system’s neighbors, drove the original request for a 5.4 percent increase in the transfer from the City, but the Council voted 5-4 on April 25 to cut that requested increase to 3.1 percent in order to achieve an overall budget with no real estate tax rate increase.

So, as of Tuesday night, the School Board hammered out final parameters of cuts to achieve a balanced budget. They included the following:

• A reduction in staff pay and salary improvements by $215,800, including a reduction in teacher salary improvements by 20 percent for $110,000.

• A reduction of $266,800 in staffing, including the elimination of a high school computer science teacher ($106,800), a system-wide project assistant ($53,200) and one elementary school teacher ($106,800).

• A reduction in supplies and services of $158,500, including reductions in classroom materials and supplies ($27,500), textbook adoptions and replacements ($25,000), office supplies at all sites ($15,000) and a three percent cushion in projected utilities costs ($30,000).

• A reduction in capital items of $68,700, including the elimination of the lease-purchase of two buses ($40,000).

• A reduction in program allocations of $54,300, including $20,000 to reduce substitute usage.

• Reduction in other items of $123,500, including a $46,000 reduction in its contingency reserve and $10,000 reduction in its annual donation to the Falls Church Education Foundation.

Increases in fees for parking, facilities rentals, athletic participation and summer computer use added $25,000.

It was pointed out at the end of the work session Tuesday that programs “saved” from inclusion on original cut lists by these choices included saving one paraprofessional day, two elementary school teachers to handle enrollment growth, an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program coordinator, a part-time gifted student teacher for enrollment growth, a half-time paraprofessional for enrollment growth, and an assistant principal position at Mt. Daniel.

During the public hearing portions of the post-Council vote School Board sessions, large turnouts of mostly parents included substantial criticisms of what were characterized as a lack of transparency and trust by the School Board and school leadership, including charges that there is a hidden $1.5 million “slush fund” that no one is being told about, and calls for an independent audit.

However, it was clarified at the City Council meeting this Monday that a detailed line item version of the School Board budget is posted on its website, and soon the City government’s budget line item detailed version (which were provided in paper form to all Council members in March) will be available to the public on the City’s website.

It was also noted that both the Schools’ and the City’s budgets have been annually audited by an outside entity as part of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report process in December of every year since 2003, governed by the state’s Governing Accounting Standards Board.

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