One of the great lines from the movies was Tim Hanks’ character’s exasperated comment while trying to coach a woman’s baseball team in “A League of Their Own.” He intones, “There’s no crying in baseball!”
Many would say, “There’s no crying in budgets,” either, preferring a stiff-upper-lip, stoical approach to determining the fates of employees, systems and services even in the toughest of times.
Not so in the case of Falls Church School Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin. After spending a half-hour spelling out the details of a zero-growth recommended budget that included no layoffs, but no pay raises for any school employee, Berlin turned to a row of leaders of the system’s employee organizations and teared up.
“My biggest disappointment is not being able to reward you,” she said, speaking through the representatives there to all the teachers and staff in the system. Her tears welled up as she spoke those words, and she said later that she was totally surprised at herself when that happened. She followed them by concluding, “We have bad times now, but I hope they’ll get better. Hang tough!”
The incident provided just the human touch that is the highest quality that can be brought to governing.
Berlin will be retiring in June after seven years at the helm of one of the most storied and accomplished school systems in the nation. With the Great Recession, she and the School Board have worked tirelessly to plug leaks and to keep the quality of the system intact as revenues evaporated, and they have succeeded to a remarkable degree.
It’s hard to argue this year, with all the headlines about flatlined revenue growth projections and a torrent of bad news and lawsuits against the City of Falls Church related to the operation of its water system, that any significant growth in its budget can be expected.
Moreover, projections for the next few years for the City hardly look better, even though this region is among the best insulated against the impacts of the Recession of any in the U.S.
Still, it is important to remember that Dr. Berlin’s budget recommended this Monday was just the first step in a process that will work out over the coming months. The ball is now in the School Board’s court, and this elected body may have some different ideas about how much it will fight to provide some salary relief or other programs in the system.
School Board chair Joan Wodiska, who has already developed a reputation as a bold and talented fighter for the needs of the City’s schools, took Berlin’s proposals by saying that “we will agitate with great vigor for our staff and our schools.”
This means that, while she said “we will strive for consensus” in the budget, she and others may be readying their war paint, perhaps ready to challenge the priorities laid out in advance by the City Council.