By Joel Block
Like many of the teachers in the Falls Church City Public Schools, I have worn many hats during my 15 years teaching in the city. I am a former Professional Employees Advisory Council chair, former Falls Church City Educational Association president and the current eighth grade team leader at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School. My experience in Falls Church City Public Schools has ranged from George Mason Middle School to George Mason High School to Mary Ellen Henderson. However, I am just speaking on my own behalf about what I see right now in our schools. I am writing this to ask for your help to protecting the education of all of our students.
As a math teacher, and former accountant, I am very comfortable with numbers. Sometimes I am more comfortable with numbers than I am with words.
So, I would like you to focus on a number: 5 percent. We need the school board to request and the city council to fund at least a 5 percent increase in the next school budget from our current budget. This school year our student population grew by over 5 percent. In addition, based on projections from the Weldon-Cooper Firm, our student population will almost double by 2032. This will put our average growth over the next 15 years at about 5 percent per year. If we do not fund this growth now, we will be playing catch up forever.
When do our students deserve less? Do they deserve less when more students arrive? This year we are running on a budget of less than what we requested/needed. This year the city did not fund the entire requested school board transfer. This year the schools made cuts beyond the cut down budget that the school board requested. Personally, it hurt my family that I didn’t bring home a step increase as was previously promised to the teachers in year three of the four-year salary plan. My take home pay actually went down due to our increased health care costs. But what hurts me more is that our growth in population is shortchanging the students.
This year we saw growth in our student population of over 5 percent that has lead to larger classes, less support for students and a lack of supplies in the schools. When we have larger class sizes the students don’t get the attention they deserve. Having taught in Fairfax County, where the average class sizes have been higher, I have seen how the students become one of many and how the teachers have to teach/manage the room rather than work with the individual students. When we have more students without growing our support resources, we lack the resources to the help to all the students that are having major challenges in school (or in their lives) that they deserve. When teachers don’t have funding for the consumables in their classrooms, teachers change activities, experiences and learning. When we don’t have the funding for our students, we shortchange our students and their education.
Please actively support funding our students. Five percent growth in the number of students means a need for at least 5 percent growth in the school budget. Why do I say “at least” 5 percent? Each year the cost of running the schools (just like the costs of running our own households) rises. Next year there will be more state mandates for schools, more funding requirements to the state and increases in costs that the schools must absorb in addition to all of the extra students. We need you to keep us from going backwards. I am not asking for more, I am asking you to maintain the level of services that our students currently receive. We need you to grow the budget to keep up with the growth in student population.
The city council has provided guidance on the school budget, but the city council needs to fund what they condone. Over the last year our city council has allowed approximately 300 new housing units to open, allowed numerous homes to grow through teardowns/rebuilds, allowed numerous home additions and allowed numerous new businesses to open. These changes not only bring growth to the number of students in our schools but also bring growth in the tax revenue to the city. Making sure the revenue from city growth covers the funding in the growth in the number of students at the schools is the responsibility of the city council. Please make it your responsibility to make sure that our students don’t get shortchanged.
In this past election cycle we have seen how some loud voices have drowned out the masses. Don’t let that happen in Falls Church City to our schools. Please write the school board and the city council requesting they fund a school budget to cover the growth of over 5 percent in student population we had this year and the annual 5 percent student population growth we will continue to have each year over the next 15 years. Please let your elected officials know that you care about the quality of our schools. Please make sure that these elected officials are not swayed by a few loud voices. Please let them know that the majority of the citizens are in favor of providing a quality education to our students. Please make sure that we don’t shortchange the children.
Joel Block is a teacher at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School in Falls Church.