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F.C. School Board Draws Bold ‘Line in Sand’ Vs. 4 Key Cuts

budget3Select Classroom Programs ‘Off the Table,’ They Say

In a bold move this week, the Falls Church School Board authorized the release of a statement from its public information office that it will not consider cutting the budgets of four instructional areas of the Falls Church City Schools. The decision arose from a work session Saturday afternoon and draws a line in the sand as the City faces a revenue shortfall now almost 15 percent below its expenditures for the past year.

Select Classroom Programs ‘Off the Table,’ They Say

In a bold move this week, the Falls Church School Board authorized the release of a statement from its public information office that it will not consider cutting the budgets of four instructional areas of the Falls Church City Schools. The decision arose from a work session Saturday afternoon and draws a line in the sand as the City faces a revenue shortfall now almost 15 percent below its expenditures for the past year.

Full-day kindergarten, foreign language, music and art programs at the City’s four schools are “off the table” in the discussion of program cuts, the statement said. “The board members agreed that these are fundamental components of the instructional program, and that reductions in these areas are no longer up for consideration,” according to the statement.

“We want to keep any budget reductions as far removed from the classroom as possible,” School Board Chair Ron Peppe said.

The Board will make its final decision on its budget request to the City next Tuesday.

The Board’s work session convened following a town hall meeting on the upcoming budget held at the Community Center Saturday morning (an exercise that will be repeated tonight, Thursday, Feb. 18, at 7:30 p.m., once again in the Community Center).

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IN A POW-WOW during a break at last Saturday’s town hall meeting on the Falls Church budget were (l. to r.) Falls Church School Board member Charlotte Hyland, Mayor Robin Gardner and School Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin. (Photo: News-Press)

At last Saturday’s event, officials of the City of Falls Church hosted the first of two citizen-input meetings designed to garner the community’s sense of priorities going into the coming difficult budget deliberations.

Of those present in the Senior Center room at the Community Center who were not either City and school administrators and employees, elected City Council or School Board members, or other members of City boards and commissions, there were about 20 citizens present in the City’s first public event since the double-whammy blizzards of the past week that dumped upwards of 30 inches of snow.

“Budgeting is a question of values,” City Manager Wyatt Shields told the total attendance of about 60 which spent much of the time in small-group discussions at eight tables set up in the room.

The preponderance of reports from the small groups indicated that maintaining the quality of the educational curriculum in the school system was the top value held by most there. Maintaining economic development efforts was second.

Going into the budget deliberations for Fiscal Year 2011 (that begins July 1), the City faces a recession-driven $8.9 million deficit, based on current revenue projections and maintaining costs at their current level, with no wage or salary increases. The shortfall amounts to about 15 percent of the total current costs of $66.4 million.

In order for the City to maintain its current level of expenditures, real estate taxes would have to rise by 30 cents above their current rate of $1.07 per $100 of assessed valuation.

Decision makers, ultimately, the Falls Church City Council (all seven of whose members were present Saturday), will have to determine what balance of spending cuts and tax increases will best serve the community, and today’s meeting was an attempt to assess what the community wants along those lines.

Following that town hall, and possibly buoyed by the support for the City’s schools expressed in that meeting, the School Board determined that it would set the goal of reducing its budget by $1,112,700 below the current year’s $36,582,575 total, despite anticipated enrollment increases in all the schools, choosing that goal from among a range of options initially presented by School Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin.

Of Berlin’s four “tiers,” the level of reduction the Board chose to try to meet was the second-least severe. The other options were to cut $651,000, $2,220,500 or $3,129,900.

The Board’s statement Monday pointed out that the least-costly of Dr. Berlin’s options was eschewed at a cost of an additional $600,000 in cuts, and noted that the Board has already cut or given back $700,000 in the past two years, equivalent to eight full time positions.

It noted that the Schools gave $400,000 back to the City in the mid-FY09 correction and that the current FY10 is $400,000 less than FY09’s. Another $300,000 give-back in mid-FY10 has already led to a partial hiring freeze for vacant positions, a reduction in several operational cost centers, delays in maintenance and replacement schedules, reductions in professional services and travel budgets, reductions in human resources advertising and reductions in tuition reimbursements for staff.

The School Board members expressed resolve that their primary responsibility is to see to the maintenance of quality for students in the classroom, and not primarily to meet an arbitrary budget cutting target.

The Board is slated to pass its budget request to the City Council following a final public hearing next Tuesday, Feb. 23. City Manager Wyatt Shields will then incorporate that request into his recommended budget to the City Council on March 8, and the Council will vote on final budget decisions on April 26.

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