Bids for the construction of the renovation and expansion of the Mt. Daniel Elementary School that were opened last weekend came in 21 percent higher than expected, Falls Church Interim School Superintendent Dr. Robert Schiller announced to the School Board at its budget work session Tuesday night.
The news came as a shocker to the board, which is struggling with how to keep expenses for the coming year down despite a continuing veritable explosion in school enrollment.
Schiller said that while further negotiations with prospective contractors will be required, he will be going to the City Council with a revision to the schools’ request for its capital improvement project (CIP) budget submitted just last week.
The increase in construction costs over estimates is related to the year-long delay in the project after the passage of a bond referendum due to its inability to be approved by the Fairfax County Planning Commission for a length of time.
Also, the board put off a final vote on the budget it will forward to the City Council for the coming fiscal year until its meeting next Tuesday. However, the board did agree to set its request at a 3.7 percent increase, one percent above the guideline it was presented with by the City Council, with still with many needs identified by school principals remaining unmet.
The debate at the School Board Tuesday was whether to include an English as a Second Language (ESOL) professional or an assistant for the Human Resources office.
Human resources services, attending to the needs of the paid staff including hiring, “are the backbone of the functions of the district,” said Schiller. Currently, assistant superintendent Lisa High is “defacto director” of HR and “wears many hats,” he said.
Schiller counseled “prudence” to the Board in going above the Council’s 2.7 percent guidance. “The political decisions are yours to make,” he said, noting that in a presentation of the system’s needs to a joint meeting of the three PTA and PTSA organizations last week, “three or four City Council members were present to get a first hand look at the needs and parents’ reactions to an inability to meet them all.”
“We do have $1.4 million in needs above the Council guidance,” noted acting School Board chair Phil Reitinger (chair Lawrence Webb was hooked up to the meeting by phone from a different location), “but with the need for a new high school, it is important that we take affordability into account.”
Board member Erin Gill said that an ESOL program specialist is “essential,” and High concurred that in the choice between an ESOL coordinator and an HR staff person, “We need both, but the kids come first.” An ESOL person would also coordinate gifted and talented student programs.
It was agreed that $3,500 be added to the budget to provide for adequate substitute teacher resources.
Chief Financial Officer Hunter Kimball assured the board that a final versions of the budget will be ready for a swift adoption next Tuesday, one with the ESOL position and the other with the HR position included.