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F.C. School Board Votes to Ask 2.9% Budget Hike, Defying 2% ‘Guidance’

THE FALLS CHURCH SCHOOL BOARD adopted its Fiscal Year 2019 budget request with a unanimous 7-0 vote Tuesday night, and then voted to approve its three finalist bidders on its project to build a new George Mason High School. (Photo: News-Press)

UPDATE:  On Wednesday night, all three Falls Church School System parent-teacher associations voted unanimously to endorse the budget request of the School Board for a 2.9% increase for the coming fiscal year.

The City of Falls Church School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to support the final version of Superintendent Peter Noonan’s proposed budget request for the coming fiscal year that calls for a 2.9-percent increase over the current year’s budget. While the 2.9 percent represents the smallest growth in the School Board’s request in over a decade, it is still ahead of the strict 2.0 percent “guidance” it was provided with by the F.C. City Council in December, and sets up what could become a heated debate as the City’s budget process moves forward toward a final adoption in late April.

“This is a responsible and responsive budget,” Noonan told the School Board Tuesday, with full appreciation for the special financial challenges of building a new high school. “This budget seeks only one third of what we really need. Apart from a 3 percent COLA (cost of living adjustment) for teachers, it adds only $116,000 to address all the needs we have. The City will offer a 3 percent COLA to its employees, so this is seeking fairness and equity.”

School financial officer Kristen Michael added that operating within the 2 percent guidance would lop off $350,236, eliminating four teaching positions, International Baccalaureate coordinators at Mt. Daniel and Thomas Jefferson Elementary, and psychologist, counseling and special education positions.

Board Vice Chair Phil Reitinger complained that the proposed budget, as voted on, cuts too much as it is. “We need additional counseling and psychology resources,” he said, ‘because our schools, as excellent as they are, are high-stress environments.”

To hold the proposed increase to 2.9 percent, Noonan said, “has required some hard trade offs. I wanted a step salary and COLA increase. The addition of counselor and social worker positions are needed to retain what makes our school system special, our personal touch and that we feel like a family.

In opening comments, Noonan said the goals of the system are to be “the best K-12 IB program in America and to use the impact of the IB program to positively address the needs of all students,” mediated through an “Approaches to Learning” program that will be fully functional through all the City’s five schools by this June.

The budget adopted Tuesday night is for $51,039,858 that includes a request for a transfer from the City of $42,211,546.

By law City Manager Wyatt Shields is required to include the School Board’s full budget request in his recommended budget for FY19 that he will present to the City Council on March 12, beginning a deliberative process that is slated to conclude with the adoption of an overall budget, including the Schools, in late April. It will include the new real estate tax rate required to balance that budget.