With three weeks to go before the Falls Church City Council is slated to vote on its Fiscal Year 2014 budget, no one on the Council has yet tipped their hand on how they intend to handle the record increase in the School Board’s budget request.
Monday’s joint City Council-School Board work session was supposed to be the showdown event that would define how a majority on the Council might vote, but much less a majority, no single Council member had a word to say on that specific matter.
Perhaps it was because the School Board, led by Chair Susan Kearney, came loaded to the teeth with detailed answers to all the 16 questions that the Council had presented them with to compel them to justify the 12.9 percent increase in funding it is seeking. A detailed 28-page document replete with graphs and projections provided the background to the answers.
When it was all over, all that Mayor Nader Baroukh could say was to caution the Council that the time is running short for some decisions.
By far the most vocal of the Council members, Ira Kaylin, himself refused to draw any conclusions from the meeting. “We just got this information and need to read more before we can comment,” he said.
This was a far tamer Kaylin than when he lashed out at the Schools’ Chief Financial Officer Hunter Kimble for Kimble’s analysis of the Virginia Retirement Fund (VRS) situation last month.
This time, the Schools came armed with a statement from Barry C. Faison, the Richmond-based chief financial officer of the VRS, corroborating Kimble’s analysis. In a School Board statement reviewed by Faison, it states that Faison “agrees that the young demographics of our staff support the notion that we have time to recover…Funding for the retiree benefits is typically accrued over the working lifetime of plan members, therefore given the demographics of the FCCPS population, it appears that there is still time available for market returns and anticipated future contributions to close the current gap in plan funding.”
Kaylin had been so upset at Kimble’s analysis earlier that he said it called just about everything the Schools were arguing about finances into question.
But the bottom line that has been strongly defended by Kearney, School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones and other School Board members Monday was the undisputed fact that there are 496 more students in the system now that there were five years ago, a 26 percent jump adding up to almost the total enrollment at the Thomas Jefferson School.
The Schools’ handout Monday showed that spending per student and City transfer to the schools have declined since 2007 even as enrollment has jumped by 26 percent, a trend that is expected to continue (from 2,262 as of Sept. 30, 2012 to 2,777 by September 2016).
It also included a chart showing the City’s median household income growing from $96,449 in 2000 to $113,313, the highest of any jurisdiction in the U.S. and almost $20,000 higher than neighboring Arlington (at $93.806).
Meanwhile, according to another chart, the City schools have endured $3,378,500 in program cuts, reductions and savings from FY 2009 to the present, including a reduction in support staff positions from 149 to 144 despite the enrollment growth.