The quality-driven popularity of the Falls Church City Schools continues to translate into record levels of enrollment growth, Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones reported to the School Board Tuesday night, noting that the annual enrollment growth rate is passing six percent to make Falls Church’s growth the highest in the entire region.
As a result, Dr. Jones said in the presentation of her recommended budget for the coming year, the Schools can keep pace, while not compromising quality, only by growing their budget another 10 percent this spring, including a 10.6 percent increase in their request for funding from the City government.
The request increase amounts to $3,591,830 for an increase in the overall request to $37,367,430.
Dr. Jones said it is expected that enrollment in the City’s four schools will jump by another 172 students next fall, and by an estimated 559 more students in three years, by the end of the 2016-2017 school year.
At that point, the system’s enrollment will have grown from 2,421 in the current year to 2,980.
Dr. Jones budget presentation Tuesday did not go into matters of capital improvements, such as the need to pay for construction of a new high school, but on the necessary preparations for the continued explosive enrollment growth, while maintaining the schools’ commitment to six core teaching strategies: 21st century teaching and learning, excellent staff, modern, secure schools, responsible fiscal management, small classes and readiness for learning.
The “visioning sessions” Dr. Jones held last summer with large contingents of Falls Church citizens and stakeholders helped a lot to shape the priorities for her current budget recommendations, she said.
The School Board will have until early March to act on Dr. Jones’ recommendations with their own budget that will be officially forwarded to City Manager Wyatt Shields as a component of his overall operating budget for the City subject to City Council approval in late April.
In addition to meeting enrollment growth challenges, other challenges Dr. Jones identified included managing aging facilities, mentoring new staff (being added faster than ever in school history), maintaining small class sizes, closing the gap on teacher pay (calling for a step raise plus one percent for all school staff, citing the challenge coming from Arlington’s significantly higher teacher salaries), and growing pressures from pension, retirement and health care funds.
She said the obligation to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) will jump by 22 percent, the City’s retirement fund by eight percent and health care premiums by 13.5 percent.
She also called attention to the opening of the Cherry Street pre-kindergarten program, which will involve 10 internship positions for “real world project-based learning.” At the Henderson Middle School, she added, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum will be introduced, and the goal is to issue a computer device to every George Mason High student that will result in bulk purchasing and cost savings of $700,000 over three years below the current “cart of computers” model.
Realignments of resources is also expected to save $467,000, she said.
Continuing variables in the budget include cost of competing areas, added or diminished state revenues, health insurance costs, VRS costs and City retirement costs.
The next steps in the process will be a joint PTA Budget and capital improvement projects (CIP) information night next Wednesday, Jan. 22, at Henderson Middle School at 7 p.m., followed by the first budget work session Jan. 28 at the School Board Central Office at 7 p.m.