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Parents, Students, Teachers Urge F.C. School Board Not to Cut $

loisberlinweb On City Side, Council OK’s Offer of Early Retirement

A standing-room-only crowd of parents and teachers packed solid the main meeting chamber at the Falls Church City Hall Tuesday to urge the School Board to avoid the deep cuts, as much as 8.6 percent of the total budget, that are being considered due to the steep revenue shortfall facing the jurisdiction.

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FALLS CHURCH School Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin is presiding over the most difficult budget process in the F.C. system’s history. (Photo: News-Press)

On City Side, Council OK’s Offer of Early Retirement

A standing-room-only crowd of parents and teachers packed solid the main meeting chamber at the Falls Church City Hall Tuesday to urge the School Board to avoid the deep cuts, as much as 8.6 percent of the total budget, that are being considered due to the steep revenue shortfall facing the jurisdiction.

One of the largest contingents ever seen at the chamber, with promises of more to come, included a stream of petitioners that came to the microphone to urge the School Board to pressure the City Council to minimize budget cuts. Joel Block, past president of the Falls Church Education Association, said, “We have to ask for what we want, and we need what we have.”

But faced with a revenue shortfall adding up to more than $10 million below its $68 million budget adopted last spring, the Falls Church City Council, who will be ultimate arbiter of how much the schools will get this spring, began taking painful budget-cutting steps of its own at its meeting Monday night.

The Council approved a plan by City Manager Wyatt Shields to offer early retirement to 58 City employees, including police, to mitigate the number of involuntary layoffs that are almost certain to come with the adoption of the Fiscal Year 2011 budget at the end of April.

City Hall is already roiling in controversy, the result of a confidential memo that was circulated which was intended, according to City Manager Wyatt Shields, to be a very preliminary assessment of what positions in the City government might be terminated.

On the early retirement offer, Richard Parker, the City’s HR specialist, said that only about 10 employees can be expected to opt for the plan, as the vast majority of the Council’s painful heavy lifting lies ahead. Among the toughest decisions it will face comes to funding the schools, and if Tuesday’s School Board hearing is any indication, it will not be done quietly.

Parents, students and teachers alike urged the School Board to not do the Council’s work for it by volunteering to cut its budget request below what the schools actually need.

Speakers Tuesday included students from George Mason High School and M.E. Henderson Middle School. Mason Senior Jack Western, president of the student band organization, reported on a petition he’d circulated at the school urging that the at-risk position of band paraprofessional Larry Allen be protected.

Allen’s position was included on a list placed on the School Board’s web site of those most likely on the chopping block in the budget deliberations. It’s a part-time position, but Allen was named the school system’s “Paraprofessional of the Year” last year for his work in the band programs for students from fourth grade through 12th.

Others also urged the School Board to retain the position of Career College Specialist at the high school currently filled by Judy Bracken. “She has been so instrumental in helping students identify and complete the application process for their best college options,” the School Board was told.

The School Board made no comments at the hearing, except to encourage participation by the public and to listen to an hour and a half of comments. Other positions and programs being considered for elimination or paring back, as posted on the schools’ web site. The options presented include:

• A seven percent reduction in non-personnel costs,

• A reduction of two staff work days for all employees,

• Possible reductions or eliminations of up to 24 staff positions,

• Reductions in employee benefits,

• Reductions or changes in instructional programs, including music, art, foreign language and kindergarten,

• Reductions or elimination of extracurricular stipends, including athletics, academics and performing arts,

• Reduction or elimination of tuition assistance programs for staff,

• Implementing student activities fees,

• Increases in student parking fees,

• Transferring the cost of IB and AP exams from schools to families,

• Charging tuition for typical peers to attend the school division’s pre-school program.

“I have taught in schools where the kids are just products in a factory, and it’s not what anyone should stand for,” Block said Tuesday.

The School Board will deliberate through the next month, including with more public hearings, and will approve its final budget to forward to the City Council on March 2.

The Council will hold two Town Hall meetings on the budget, one at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 13 and a second at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 18, both in the Community Center. The Council will craft its budget in March and April, including its transfer to the schools, and take its final vote on April 26.

A video of Tuesday’s School Board meeting is available on the board’s web site.

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