As Kaylin Accuses F.C. Schools of ‘Fear Mongering,’ Duncan Seeks More Funds

April 17, 2013 8:05 PM28 comments

City Council Mulls Still Many Moving Parts in Budget

With four budget “scenarios” before them Tuesday night with proposed tax rates ranging from the current $1.27 to City Manager Wyatt Shields’ proposed $1.33, the Falls Church City Council could not reach a consensus, and will therefore have to reconvene on tonight in order to come to an agreement in advance of its final vote next Monday.

But while Council member Ira Kaylin lashed out at the School Board Tuesday, accusing them of “fear mongering” and a variety of other ills, Councilman Phil Duncan emerged from the meeting with a change of heart.

In a statement issued to the News-Press late Wednesday, Duncan said that he will come with a new plan that “maintains excellent schools and City services while keeping the tax rate reasonable…as close as possible to the current $1.27.”

He confirmed to the News-Press by phone that he is determined “to give the schools almost everything they’ve asked for.”

In his written statement, Duncan said that starting with a rate of $1.36, “We’ve already knocked a nickel off the tax rate, and the proposal for the new Storm Water Utility has been improved so it will deliver results at a fee lower than initially expected. I will come to Thursday’s work session with some more ideas.”

At Tuesday’s rancorous session, with Vice Mayor David Snyder not present, there was an apparent consensus that the Schools should not get their full request, although only one of the four paper scenarios specified a cut in the increase in the schools’ request from 14.3 percent to 10 percent, bringing the schools $1,259,980 short of their request.

That scenario remains very much on the table, and Kaylin set the table for a run on the schools’ request with a scathing prepared statement accusing the schools of “fear mongering,” credibility problems, “an appearance of conflict of interest,” and more.

School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones was in the room along with School Board Chair Susan Kearney and a large contingent of school supporters. By the rules of a work session, they were not permitted to speak, and sat through an hour and a half discussion of the budget that included Kaylin repeating his charges.

Only Councilman Phil Duncan, who did not escape Kaylin’s wrath, took a mild swipe at Kaylin’s incivility by saying he must be having a bad day, to which Kaylin retorted that he is not.

Kaylin lashed out at the school board request, and Council member Johannah Barry followed suit, saying that “the rising trajectory of the school budget” has to be scaled back. Other Council members present then followed the tone of Councilman Ron Peppe’s call for compromise by all parties, even as Duncan said he felt “there is a communications disconnect at the core of this budget.”

Two points raised included (1) despite the fact that up to a $2 million surplus having just been found in the current Fiscal Year 13 budget last week, the news did nothing to relieve the pressures on either cutting the schools’ request or the tax rate and (2) on top of whatever the new real estate tax rate will be, there will also be the added burden on taxpayers of funding a new Storm Water Utility to the tune of an average $250 per household, even though annual payments on that would be put off until a year from June.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, School Board Chair Kearney issued a statement to the News-Press: “I am appalled and disappointed that members of city council still don’t get, or refuse to acknowledge school needs. The case is simple: 25 percent student growth with only a 10 percent increase in funding – while overall city revenues increased by 25 percent – means we have a huge funding gap in spite of efficiencies we have implemented since 2007. During the same period that school operating expenses grew about 8 percent, city operating expenses have grown by more than double that percentage. How can anyone who is paying attention to the actual data say that school and city spending are unbalanced toward the schools?

“The world sometimes gives you interesting moments which juxtapose events that provide clarity. Last night while Council was discussing cutting the schools’ request a similar meeting was being held in Arlington. According to today’s Post, at that meeting the Arlington Board added money to the school budget after already agreeing to use $20 million from their fund balance to meet education needs. Those actions speak volumes about their priorities.”

School Board member Greg Rasnake also issued a statement: “I am terribly disappointed by the statements by Councilman Kaylin regarding school funding. In the face of exploding enrollment pressure, it seems that his singular focus is to cut the schools no matter the cost. I personally think his approach to funding our schools defies logic and flies in the face of community sentiment on the matter. And while I’m sure he and his colleagues’ decisions will weigh heavily on the minds of voters this November, I hope the damage done by this approach won’t be permanent. I can only hope that Vice Mayor Snyder has the courage to lead the Council in another direction. If not, the School Board will no doubt face a terrible dilemma in trying to decide where to apply Mr. Kaylin’s cuts.”

The issue that drew the most applause at Saturday’s Town Hall meeting on the budget, the bloated size of the City’s fund balance, did not come up at all Tuesday night.

One of the best-attended town hall meetings on the budget in recent years in the City of Falls Church saw citizens turn out to speak up in favor funding the School Board request for the coming fiscal year budget, and to question the City’s current fund balance and Storm Water Utility Fund plans.

One option before the Council is reducing the School Board budget request, and when asked today what effect a $1.2 million cut in the School Board’s funding request of $33,682,700 would have on the schools, Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones said, “One word: devastating.” She and School Board chair Susan Kearney detailed how the budget request is “bare bones” considering the phenomenal enrollment growth in recent years, including a 6.7% growth just during the course of the current school year.

  • Mark

    This is the same school system that managed to (1) have a slush fund and (2) buy iPads for the kids (not HS, but little kids). The school board uses the daily FCCPS email as a PR tool – thus going around the City budgeting process by advocating for itself. Yes, the school system is fear mongering!

    The school advocates treat the City as a school district and Not at City with other needs. The school board members totally ignore the crushing homeowner taxes imposed upon us.

    I want to see specific details from Phil Duncan on how he can keep things at or near $1.27. Will he reduce funding for police, library, and other services? I strongly disagree with his stance to give the schools everything they want … we simply cannot afford the current trajectory.

    • philduncan

      I assume that all the Councilors will come to tonight’s work session with some ideas worthy of consideration (that’s what the mayor asked of us), and with a willingness to listen and compromise (that’s our job). I know I will.

    • http://twitter.com/DivagirlV11 DivaV11

      How about we poll the homebuyers who have paid an average of nearly $400 a sq. ft. for the priviledge of owning a home in Falls Church City. Or those of us who work diligently to find affordable rental housing to have access to these schools because the cost of buying a home is so out of reach. The mass majorty of people (including myself) who seek to live in Falls Church City over the last five years did so to have access to the schools. The rapid increase of enrollment supports that reality. I have one of those “little kids” whose learning is enhanced through the use of technology including smart boards and iPads. At the same time our school has lost a designated room for music due to the large increases in enrollment. The school budget and needs are not fear mongering, they are a reality. While municipalities surrounding Falls Church City are seeking ways to increase school budgets to support infrastructure and facitilies needs Mr. Kaylin would rather treat the school district as though the world has not changed and advanced. Falls Church City isn’t just a school district, you are correct about that, but the City is a desired destination because of them.

      • http://twitter.com/poseidonguy1 PoseidonGuy

        If an iPad is necessary for the enhancement of your child’s learning, it should be budgeted for–not raided from a surplus fund that belongs to the taxpayers.

        • http://twitter.com/DivagirlV11 DivaV11

          PoseidonGuy – you’ve obviously missed the point of my post. I don’t
          disagree that purchases and improvements for the schools should be
          budgeted and we all pay taxes. That’s the point. The needs assessment
          for the school shows a $5million gap. The budget before the City Council
          doesn’t come close to closing that gap. It’s a reasoned first step and I
          would argue should serve as a beginning to MUCH needed long term
          planning that will address the reality that Falls Church City is 2.2 sq.
          miles and the enrollment of our schools will continue to increase while
          the physical size will not. Again, the rapid uptick in enrollment
          speaks to the fact that the demographics of Falls Church City is
          attracting young families and those families are coming her because of
          our schools.

          • http://twitter.com/poseidonguy1 PoseidonGuy

            Those families are also widening the tax base when they purchase a previously unoccupied condo (for example) or shop in the Little City. Part of the problem is the knee-jerk “no new commercial development!” crowd. With a broader commercial and residential base, the City could bring in additional revenue without having to constantly raise taxes.

  • c0mment

    I gotta say, Ira accusing others of using scare tactics is pretty funny.

  • RPeppe

    I won’t comment on possible issues to be discussed tonight, since any such debate should take place in the public meeting itself. I do want to clarify what actually happened at the meeting Tuesday night, or at least what I saw happen.

    By the end of the discussion Tuesday, 3 council members said they would support, as a compromise, what was listed as “option 2″, which would fully fund the school request, and there were some slight variations suggested. I think two other members said they liked “option 4,” which had the $1.3 million reduction in the request, though there was some indication there was openness to more discussion on the actual amounts. The other two said they would bring some more ideas on what could be cut out to keep the rate lower, without committing to a specified level of school funding. Since it takes 4 votes to do anything, nothing has been decided yet.

    Bottom line, I don’t think there was a “consensus” about funding or not funding the school request, there were just 3 who said we would support one of the plans, and that plan included full funding, but 4 others who did not specifically commit one way or the other.

    Stay tuned!

    Ron

  • http://twitter.com/poseidonguy1 PoseidonGuy

    Point of inquiry: what is the basis for Ms. Kearney’s claim that there has been “25% student growth”? Over what time period? The latest numbers I saw from the District indicated 3-4% annual growth.

    Comment: Ms. Kearney needs to knock off the claims that people “refuse to acknowledge the school’s needs.” Nobody questions that the school district should receive a increase — the question is how much and for what. It is reasonable for taxpayers and their representative to review the school board’s proposal.

    • andyrankin

      If you have a 4% annual increase then after about 5.5 years you’ll get to a 25% accumulated increase. I think that’s about what the schools have seen from 2007 to today.

      • http://twitter.com/poseidonguy1 PoseidonGuy

        Thanks – that’s what I assumed but it’s not entirely clear.

        • JohnDLawrence

          Just to be clear. It’s not an estimate. It’s just a factual number. You take the number of kids you have now (2,300+ and counting) and then calculate what the increase is from the number of kids we had in 2007. It’s not a “claim,” just simple math.

          • jimbledsoe

            John… to be clear… we get it. Your condescending tone is an
            example of what is wrong with the School Board. To some of us, it doesn’t matter what funding you think you are entitled to or the reason you believe justifies it. The City’s model is broken. Some folks might not like the way Ira Kaylin expresses his opinion, but it is hard to argue that he is not right. Four cents here and artificially inflated property values, and spiraling homeowner tax bills screams of a jurisdiction struggling for survival. I have raised two children in Falls Church and have two more children at Thomas Jefferson. Whether we have the money or we don’t, for some of us it’s somewhat sobering just how much of our income we pay in taxes and fees for whatever reason. For example, how much has the City’s mismanagement of zoning approvals contributed to the need for a storm water management fee?

            As I have said before, I do not understand why you and your
            fellow School Board members and advocates feel the need to come on public forums to defend the schools need relative to funding requests. Why did you send a mass email out telling parents to show up at the budget meeting wearing T-shirts that showed support for the schools? Who are you trying to convince? What are you afraid of? Believers of the Falls Church dream do not need reassurance.
            If the School Board and advocates really have mass citizen support for your unchecked spending, why do you, David Chavern, Sue Kearney et al need to write commentaries in the FCNP? I guess it must be to persuade ‘Councilors’ not to mess with your entitlement. The City’s model is broken.

          • JohnDLawrence

            I found your statement of “I do not understand why you and your
            fellow School Board members and
            advocates feel the need to come on public forums to defend the schools
            need relative to funding requests” to be rather odd. As part of School Board training, I went to sessions with the Virginia School Board Association for new Board members. Two fundamental responsibilities of a Board are: 1) To develop a school budget; and 2) To keep the public informed. Why do we “feel the need to come on public forums to defend the schools need relative to funding requests?” Because it’s our job.

          • Bill Royce

            Hey Jim — I believe I can explain why School Board members feel they need to come on public
            forums to defend the schools need relative to funding requests. Take a look at this presentation — http://tinylink.net/38528 — I put together. I’d also really like your feedback — Bill.Royce@gmail.com

          • Vincent Seidita

            Bill,

            Thanks for taking the time to offer your analysis of the available data to inform the annual debate concerning school funding. The irony of our situation is that we have a majority of pepole who care deeply about the quality of the schools and the resources to fund whatever is requested. This has led us to a system which makes poor choices and wastes money because it can. Our schools can improve with less money combined with more insightful management. How do we get there? Please continue to share your analysis of the relevent data. Anyone waiting for the schools to offer balanced analysis will be dissappointed.

          • http://twitter.com/poseidonguy1 PoseidonGuy

            This is very helpful, thank you. It’s sad that anyone who questions the school’s runaway spending is met with: “Because enrollment is growing, now stop undermining our kids’ education!” I have a child who will soon be in the FC schools, and I will be just as fiscally conservative then as I am now. Yes, schools need money to operate. But when the District spends thousands of dollars of surplus tax money on iPads, I find it hard to believe that there aren’t areas where they can cut, streamline operations, etc. Selling off the iPads and returning the proceeds to taxpayers would be a good start.

          • http://twitter.com/poseidonguy1 PoseidonGuy

            Just to be clear. You were the City Council candidate that authorized the publication of false data about another candidate, right? Your comment indicates (a) that you don’t know what the word “claim” means and (b) that you didn’t read my question. I simply asked over what time period the author was using. Andyrankin answered the question (above). Your comment provided no value, other than sounding like a jerk.

  • JohnDLawrence

    What is the basis for the claim of school enrollment growth? Seriously? The claim is from school enrollment growth numbers. Period. It’s fairly easy to track who comes and goes. I’m not surprised the District has 3-4% growth. With all due respect to DC, you don’t move there for the schools. So the numbers for **Falls Church** enrollment come from the numbers of Falls Church students enrolling in our schools. It’s pretty straightforward.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Smith/100002309640996 Mike Smith

    That wild and crazy Kaylin guy! He keeps blurting out hard truths. Ms Kearney proved his point about the Schools (ahem) “creative” use of numbers. She talks about the 25%increase in pupils over a number of years and the mere 10% increase in the budget for one year – clearly misleading to folks who haven’t been following the budget every year.

    • Bill Royce

      Hey Mike — a couple of years ago I started trying to figure out the secret of FFCPS. (In case you are wondering, I haven’t worked on it full-time for two years, just sporadically.) Anyway, I think I’ve got a good start on explaining the fugazi that is FCCPS. I’d like some feedback as it is a work in progress — http://tinylink.net/38528 tell me what you think and any suggestions. thx BillRoyce@gmail.com

  • Jeff4275

    Ms. Kearney’s statement about the increase in enrollment and “funding” leaves a misleading impression about per-pupil school spending. Spending per pupil is only modestly lower than 2007, the year she selected for comparison, and significantly HIGHER than many other years she could have chosen. According to a chart in FCCPS’s lobbying materials (which are a like a museum of cleverly misleading charts), enrollment in FY 2014 is projected to be up 26% from 2007. But spending has also risen rapidly. According to the same chart, current per-student spending is just 3% lower than it was in FY 2007 (a budget prepared when the economy was humming and jobs were plentiful) and about 5% HIGHER than in FY 2012.

    FCCPS per-student spending is also 14% HIGHER than it was in FY 2000 (in constant dollars). With all of the cries of “catastrophe” should FCCPS not get a huge increase in its budget, I have to wonder how the Falls Church schools kept their top ratings during the dark days of 2000 when the schools spent about $2,300 LESS per student (in constant dollars) than they do today.

    I want great Falls Church schools, not least because my own kids are slated to go there from K through 12. But my kids will only be there if my family can afford to stay in this city–something that the spiraling tax rate is putting in jeopardy. Falls Church had great schools in 2000 with much lower per-pupil spending. There’s no reason it can’t have great schools in 2014 while holding spending in check.

  • philduncan

    At tonight’s Council work session, a scenario will be presented for what I call the “50-bucks-a-month” budget. It asks the average FC homeowner to pay about $600 more in taxes/fees in 2013 than he/she did in 2012. That’s a lot of money for a number of folks in our City, but it’s an amount that I can in good conscience ask taxpayers to accept, even in these uncertain economic times, because:


    — it provides for a budget that funds the legitimate and justified “asks” we received for schools and general government;

    — it creates a new stormwater/sewer utility with $650,000 funded from surplus to be repaid by fee-collection in June 2014;
    
— it holds 17 percent of total revenues in three designated funds — (1) an unassigned fund balance, (2) a capital savings account, and (3) a taxpayer & revenue stabilization fund.

    My proposal carries a tax rate right at $1.275. I’ve asked the City’s CFO to show on the scenario spreadsheet that going below $1.275 would require elimination of pay raises for City staff, which I do not support. (Eliminating those raises would bring the tax rate down to $1.26.) There are those in the community saying that because some number of our citizens are retirees on fixed incomes, or have not seen much in the way of pay increases for several years and now are threatened by the sequester, furloughs, etc., perhaps this is not a good time to be raising the pay of our City and schools employees. I fully understand and appreciate those anxieties, which is why I am trying really hard to hold the tax rate as close as possible to the current $1.27.


    My plan calls for stocking the taxpayer & revenue stabilization fund with approximately $1.5 million, drawing down half of that sum at the start of FY13-14 to enable the $1.275 rate, and committing to replenish that drawdown from FY13-14 surplus, with the stabilization fund having “first dollar in” claim to surplus. With this approach, the combined sum held in the City’s three designated funds remains at 17 percent of revenue — at the top of the 12 percent to 17 percent range in Council’s fund balance policy.

    
I look forward to my fellow Councilors’ questions and comments on this proposal, and welcome everyone’s suggestions for improvements.


    Thanks!
    Phil

  • JFallsChurch

    Maybe the tax revenue from the new Harris Teeter can cover the cost of a new teacher

  • Ira Kaylin

    The comments that I made at the April 16 City Hall meeting are more nuanced and contextual than presented in the article. A transcript of my comments will be provided
    in the Falls Church Post Community Info and Comment on Saturday.

    All of the emails received that are in support of the “full funding” of the requested Transfer amount have two things in common: 1) none asks for the underlying rationale for the suggested growth rate reduction in expenditures and, 2) there has not been one single request for an explanation of why the 10% growth rate was proposed.

    The rationale for the reduction in FY 2014 operating costs proposed by Johannah and me is based on concern that we are setting the stage for even more difficult budget discussions in FY 2015 and 2016. Without these reductions now future tax rates will have cover capital costs that we cutting this year. Once again we will be mortgaging our future.

    The level of the growth rate of the Transfer amount was based on Mr. Craig Cheney’s proposal that, for FY 2014, the rate of growth be set at 10%. In other words the almost $3.9 million Transfer amount request would be reduced to approximately $2.6 million.
    I doubt Mr. Cheney, who previously served as School Board Chair, would recommend any amount that would “devastate” the School Division.

    My question to those who support the School Board request is: how do you know that it is the correct amount? At the moment the justification is circular—the amount requested by the School Board is needed because—it is needed by the School Board. That is not a rationale it is a belief system. Given the School’s Board demonstrated “Cherry” picking of data to prove a point and the hiding of important data (discovered through a FOIA request) there is no reason to believe that a 14.3% growth rate is necessary.

    • JFallsChurch

      sounds like a reasonable question to ask. Don’t question the wonderful all knowing OZ

    • http://twitter.com/DivagirlV11 DivaV11

      With all due respect Mr. Kaylin, I have listened to the transcripts of your comments last week and they are condescending of the families and persons who would seek to support the school’s transfer request. The schools aren’t acting from a position of fearmongering and ignorance as you suggest. As families who moved to this community for the quality of the schools are seeking to understand the very real needs our schools are facing long-term and how best to pay for it. Rising enrollment will continue and the facilities and infrastructure are incapable of sustaining this growth. That sir is fact. While the annual growth of the school’s budget shouldn’t be carte-blanche perhaps if you had come to the table with a plan that supports a short term solution for the schools with a commitment to a long-term plan intent to ensure we get to a place of sustainable schools that maintain the quality that is fundamental to driving the city’s housing market that is averaging nearly $400 a square foot. Your reinstatement of a complete denial of the transfer after Thursday’s meeting flies in the face of compromise.

  • FallsChurchCitizen

    A major reason that our students perform well is that we are, generally speaking, a community of stable families who value education. We have well-nourished kids that are fortunate to have a safe home environment where they are encouraged by their parents (told, if necessary!) to do their homework and respect their classmates. I recently read that there are a few middle schools in Fairfax County that are responsible for many of the students who attend TJHSST. I hear a lot about how our salaries and per-pupil spending compare to Arlington; how do class sizes and teacher salaries at MEH compare with those high-achieving middle schools in Fairfax County (Longfellow, Carson, and Rocky Run), where parents also presumably care a great deal about education?

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