The Falls Church School Board moved smoothly at the beginning of its first meeting of the New Year this Tuesday to unanimously re-elect Laura Downs as its chair and Tate Gould as vice-chair, and to commend the seven years of service on the board of soon-departing Phil Reitinger. It then gave its undivided attention for an hour to Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan who presented his recommended Fiscal Year 2024 budget (to go into effect this summer).
The big news in Noonan’s proposed budget is the fact that, across the board, five percent raises are projected for all the staff in a recommended budget that, for the fifth year in a row, comes in under the projected guidance it received from the City Council last month. It also proposes for the first time and unique in the entire state a paid family leave option for either or both parents of up to six weeks.
In what he called a “responsive, responsible needs-based budget plan” in which over 1,000 people were involved the preparation of a five-year plan of which this budget proposal
is a part, Noonan hailed the swiftness, he said, by which the Falls Church City Public School (FCCPS) system has rebounded from the Covid-19 Pandemic challenges.
He noted that the FCCPS is once again rated the No. 1 system in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and now has the greatest percentage of students receiving the highly-esteemed International Baccalaureate diploma.
The FCCPS is one of only seven in the entire nation whose system from preschool through 12th grade is officially based on the IB curriculum, he remanded the board, such that priorities in the budget are based on a student-centered set of policies that make the system competitive in the region even as a compensation study on just that will not be presented to the board until April.
The goals of the budget are to provide students with an environment and teaching skills that make students feel they “belong, are included and empowered,” achieving academic success in a system that is “inclusive and supportive of diversity and connected to the community.”
The current system-wide enrollment is 2,534, 32 above projections and evenly spread through the grades. He said that those students classified as economically disadvantaged is up by 15.4 percent (from 195 to 225 students and there is an increase in home schooled students of only two.
Trends to address going forward are the fact that the birth rate in the region is dropping sharply, and that shifts to remote work are challenges that will impact the schools. The anticipated enrollment this coming fall is 2,552, or 18 net new students.
The City’s guidance issued last month called for limiting revenue growth to 4.2 percent, or $1,950,000. With revenues from the state expected to increase by 15.9 percent, federal revenues expected to be up by only $43,000, but $270,000 expected to be coming in from school bus stop-arm violations, a total of $2,955,000 in new money is projected to be deployed in the new budget.
With this comes the resources for five percent increases to all system employees this year. In addition, the paid family leave program will be provided not only for full time but also for less than full-time employees.
There is money in Noonan’s proposed budget for a Meridian High Sustainability Academy, lighting on the tennis courts, baseball field improvements, net yields from switching banks, new environmentally friendly buses and solar panels at the high school.
A large contingent of parents appealed during the public comment period for an additional teacher to be added to the system’s “advanced academics” program at Oak Street Elementary, and the response came from Noonan that his proposed budget actually adds to the resources for that program.
Some teachers also spoke out in support of fair elections to establish collective bargaining, an issue also being pursued in other regional systems.
They argued that there should be no requirements for thresholds or outcomes that are based on supermajorities.
The School Board will deliberate on Noonan’s proposed budget and make final decisions by Feb. 28, to be forwarded with the City Manager’s proposed budget by March 27, and due for final adoption by May 9.
The budget addresses a key action in the FCCPS Strategic Plan, “’Investing in Our People’ and my personal commitment to ensuring that FCCPS has the best compensation and working conditions in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Noonan said.
Compensation and benefits that impact staff the most are: A Step increase for all eligible employees, a two percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for all employees, a $1,000 longevity bonus for those who are at the end of the salary scale and not eligible for the Step, six weeks of paid parental leave for employees that have a new child, increased payout of sick leave upon separation from FCCPS from under $3.50 per hour to $15 per hour, and health benefits extended to all employees who are benefits eligible — full-time and part-time.
Three budget work sessions are scheduled before the Board adopts its Advertised Budget late next month. The first is next Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 7 p.m. at the system’s central office, 150 S Washington St., 4th Floor.