News

F.C. Schools Chief Presents 4 Options for Dire Budget Cuts

Similar to Ones Proposed for Fairfax Schools

Falls Church School Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin, telling the F.C. School Board Tuesday this coming budget year “is like no other,” submitted instead of the usual superintendent’s recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2011, a set of four scenarios for drastic reductions in annual school system expenditures.

Berlin’s draconian scenarios, which will be fleshed out as better information on available revenues arrives, follow on the grim recommendations made last week by Fairfax County Schools chief Jack Dale to trim $118 million off of what the county system, with its 174,000 students, needs to maintain its current level of functioning.

Dale’s recommendations for Fairfax include closing the Pimmit Hills Alternative School, cutting 600 positions, no raises, larger class sizes, no summer school, no freshman sports, no language instruction in elementary schools, the elimination of winter cheerleading and indoor track, band and strings programs, year-round school programs, and the scaling back of full-day kindergarten and foreign language immersion programs, among others. It calls for imposing fees of $75 for every Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate test, and $100 for participating on a sports team.

In the much smaller Falls Church system’s case, the cuts will be at least as severe, proportionately. While Dr. Berlin did not spell out specific positions or programs that would be cut under the four scenarios in her presentation tonight, she did lay out rough dollar consequences of options ranging from a net 1.8 percent budget reduction to an 8.6 percent reduction.

But Dr. Berlin did indicate that cuts will be in areas such as non-personnel costs, staff work days, staff positions, employee benefits, instructional programs, extracurricular stipends and tuition assistance programs. She said as much as she wished it were otherwise, there may be no way to avoid significant layoffs.

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F.C. Schools Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin presents budget scenarios at a School Board work session Tuesday. (Photo: News-Press)

The options that will be adopted by the School Board and Falls Church City Council over the next three months will be predicated on revenues available from the City, the state and federal government, and there are a lot of unanswered questions on those now as the consequences of the recession have taken a very deep toll, and a court decision last week could make that even worse.

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For example, Dr. Berlin conceded that her discussions with City Hall officials that played into her scenarios came prior to last week’s Fairfax Circuit Court ruling forbidding Falls Church from using proceeds from its water system for its operating budget, including for its transfer to the schools.

The superintendent’s four options, or “tiers” as she characterized them, drop the current $36,582,575 annual budget by either $651,000, $1,112,700, $2,220,500 or $3,129,900.

She said, “The toll of an 8.6 percent reduction is so drastic and draconian, I think you will understand, when you see the details, why I am not presenting options with deeper cuts of 10 or 15 percent, as some had suggested earlier.”

She told a somber School Board that she did not want to lay out specific jobs and programs that would fall under one or the other of these scenarios at this time, but that the School Board would have access to such lists prior to their first work session on the budget on Jan. 23.

Before then, however, the School Board is scheduled to participate in a joint work session with the City Council next Tuesday, Jan. 19, to hear a mid-term review of the overall revenue situation going into the new budget cycle.

This is in the context of an anticipated increase in enrollment of the overall system, expected to grow from 2,016 to 2,057 students.

The School Board expressed confusion and frustration with how the budget process may unfold, noting that the City Manager indicated that his proposed budget would be presented on March 8, prior to when the School Board may have their own budget finalized.

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However, a number of joint sessions with the Council and School Board meeting together are slated in the next six weeks.

The first public hearing on the School budget is slated for Tuesday, Jan 26, at City Hall.

In the case of Fairfax County, the School Board has only until Feb. 4 to forward its proposed budget to the County Board of Supervisors.

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