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F.C. School Board Seeks Input on $300k in Cuts

The Falls Church School Board put out a public call through its web site Tuesday for citizen input on how to cut $300,000 from its current fiscal year operating budget, the Schools’ principle portion of cuts to overcome a $5.6 million shortfall in the overall City of Falls Church $66 million budget.

The call came after an extraordinary joint work session Monday bringing together the Falls Church City Council, Planning Commission and School Board held at the F.C. Community Center Monday night. There, City Manager Wyatt Shields, with the aid of his City Hall staff, detailed his proposal for addressing the shortfall, brought about by the massive economic recession of the past year.

The School Board’s appeal is for public input at its next regular meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 27. It came after public reaction to date of the news of the far-more-than-expected shortfall has been nil in the City. Not only was no one present to comment or protest at the City Council meeting last week, but Monday’s joint work session, moved to the Community Center from City Hall to accommodate a larger public turnout, was also poorly attended.

Shields’ plan, laid out through an arduous line-by-line power-point description of all the divisions of the City’s operations, achieves the necessary cuts for the current fiscal year through a freeze on all but essential capital improvement projects, a freeze on hiring to fill over 10 full-time or full-time equivalent positions in City government, and $600,000 in non-personnel cuts from divisions of the City government.

Shields’ plan accomplishes the necessary cuts without any layoffs of existing personnel or pay cuts. It also restores the City’s fund balance to the minimum eight percent of the total annual operating budget, in accordance with the City’s guidelines set up to maintain its high credit rating.

Shields ideas for the $300,000 in school cuts did not include any layoffs or pay cuts, or reductions in after school or athletic programs. He originally asked School Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin to find $500,000 in cuts, but since the schools will be getting $200,000 less in revenue due to lowered returns on sales and other taxes, and will need to absorb those, it leaves the School Board with the task of voluntarily paring back by another $300,000.

Shields’ plan also preserves all the City Recreation and Parks special community events and athletic programs, except to propose scaling back from two to one event for City employees. Savings from reducing the road repaving plans from 1.75 lane miles to 1.50 was one major source of savings, as was cutting back the City Recycling Program’s household toxic recycling days from two to one annually.

Jon Pepper, the new president of the Falls Church City Education Association and a science teacher at George Mason High School, told the News-Press yesterday that given the economic crisis, what the schools are being asked to give up is not as severe as feared. However, he said, things could be much tougher for the schools in the next fiscal year, and it may be years before the situation turns around.

Tough talks on the Fiscal Year 2011 budget are slated to begin with a joint City Council and School Board work session on Nov. 30.

Fixing the current $5.6 million shortfall is hoped to be accomplished by a Council resolution on Nov. 9, Shields said Monday. The City Council will have a public hearing next Monday night, prior to the School Board meeting on Tuesday, and another work session will be held on Nov. 2. A second Council public hearing will then be held Nov. 9 before the Council votes to give its nod to Shields’ cost-cutting plan.

Much of some Council members’ misgivings over the direction and priorities of Shields’ proposed cuts expressed at a work session last week were muted this Monday both by the level of detail provided by Shields, and also by the realization that Shields can make the cuts administratively, but is seeking Council support as an effort at transparency and shared support.

The total $5.6 million shortfall comes from a $4.1 million shortfall in real estate property taxes and another $1.5 million loss in other tax and related revenues.

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