F.C. School & City Hall Leaders Meet to Smooth Ruffled Feathers

January 30, 2013 8:07 PM0 comments
THE TWO RECENTLY-APPOINTED new members of the Falls Church School Board, former Planning Commission chair John Lawrence (left) and former School Board chair Craig Cheney (center) were present at this Tuesday’s School Board meeting, along with Kieran Sharpe (right) and the rest of the board. (Photo: News-Press)

THE TWO RECENTLY-APPOINTED new members of the Falls Church School Board, former Planning Commission chair John Lawrence (left) and former School Board chair Craig Cheney (center) were present at this Tuesday’s School Board meeting, along with Kieran Sharpe (right) and the rest of the board. (Photo: News-Press)

An effort to smooth over one of the sharpest clashes ever between City Hall and the School Board in the City of Falls Church took place last Saturday when the top representatives of both groups met for two hours to hear each other out.

School Board chair Susan Kearney reported to her colleagues Tuesday night that the meeting involving her, School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones, F.C. Mayor Nader Baroukh and City Manager Wyatt Shields had occurred.

Last week, as reported in the News-Press, there was an overwhelming consensus among angry School Board members who recoiled at the content and tone of a City Hall memo demanding the School Board reimburse its fund balance for an array of badly needed immediate expenses out of its FY14 budget request.

At Saturday’s meeting, according to Kearney, Mayor Baroukh apologized for “speaking in that manner,” referencing the tone of the City Hall memo.

“We agreed we will try to consider more positive language,” Kearney reported, although there remain sharp differences expected to become even more pronounced as the budgeting process for Fiscal Year 2014 proceeds in the next three months.

The schools, citing record enrollment growth, will need a double-digit increase in revenues from the City, according to the budget recommended by Jones last week, while the City learned revenues from growth in real estate values will be under three percent.

In their conversation Saturday, Kearney reported, the issue of what formally constitutes capital as opposed to operating expenses was also broached, noting that items such as school buses and technology may better be understood as capital, rather than operating, costs.

She said the group also agreed to move toward more frequent meetings through the budget process. Kearney said she’d also met separately with Vice Mayor David Snyder last weekend.

Following last Saturday’s meeting, Kearney crafted a letter to Shields to clarify certain things: 1. that the request was unusual and not made lightly, 2. that the Council’s intent be clear concerning its expectations for the money pertaining to the coming fiscal year budget, and 3. that the School Board did not specify its own fund balance as the funding source, rather “our hope was that these funds could be taken from the City’s fund balance, which is generally used for unexpected capital expenses.”

Meanwhile, Monday night the City Council moved ahead with a unanimous vote (Snyder absent) to approve $782,000 to “address a number of emergencies that the school system now faces.”

Foremost among these was $200,000 for security fencing at the school campus both George Mason High and Henderson Middle School occupy.

The schools’ coordinator of facility and security services, Seve Padilla, briefed the Council on the ongoing cooperation with City police and the prospective vendor for the fencing and how it will deter the current practice of frequent unmonitored traversing of the campus by non-school related pedestrians.

The push for the fence was the schools’ response to the Sandy Hook killings last month.

Other funds voted Monday for the schools included $52,000 for the clean up of two sewage events at Henderson, $180,000 to replace two aging buses that now need frequent maintenance, $180,000 to purchase two new buses to address the need for new bus routes due to growing enrollment, $70,000 to purchase broken and failing kitchen equipment (including a tilt skillet, refrigerator and convection oven), and $100,000 for additional staffing due to enrollment growth.

The Shields memo attached to the ordinance, however, remained unchanged in its language to the effect that “the School Board will address all or a significant portion of the loss of revenue from its fund balance through cost reductions in its FY14 budget request.”

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