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F.C. Schools’ Planned Take-Home Pay Cuts Opposed

Faced with a record, recession-driven budget shortfall, the Falls Church School Board moved closer Tuesday to what school employees contend will be significant cuts in their take-home pay.

Faced with a record, recession-driven budget shortfall, the Falls Church School Board moved closer Tuesday to what school employees contend will be significant cuts in their take-home pay.

Joel Block, president of the Falls Church Education Association, told the board at its meeting that while neighboring jurisdictions will be offering modest pay increases to their school employees, despite the hard times, the same is not true for what the Falls Church Board has planned so far.

Another large turnout of parents and teachers attended Tuesday’s meeting. Block said the board’s plans could cut the Falls Church school employees’ take-home pay by as much as 4.5 percent.

“You have proposed two furlough days, which is a one percent pay cut for me. You have discussed cutting the percentage the school system covers of health care costs and passing on the increase in health care costs, which could be about a 2.5 percent pay cut for me. You have proposed cutting 403b matching, a one percent pay cut for me,” Block said.

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F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields. (News-Press photo)

In jurisdictions surrounding Falls Church, budgets announced Tuesday for Arlington and Fairfax County also included draconian cuts. The Arlington School Board proposed a budget for its 20,268-student system that calls for a $3.5 million increase despite cutting 95 positions, increase average class sizes and introducing participation fees for athletics. Fairfax County Manager Anthony Griffin proposed a limiting a tax rate increase to five cents ($1.04 to $1.09) by introducing 100 layoffs in the areas of education, public safety and social services and a net reduction in the budget for the county’s schools.

The Falls Church School Board’s consideration of a proposal to have employees pay for one percent of their Virginia Retirement System cost had to be pulled off the table because it violated current Virginia law, the News-Press learned.

Indeed, along with a pay freeze and significantly reduced staffing, take home pay of school and Falls Church City school employees will go down as the City struggles to close a huge budget gap, Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields said in a candid, live half hour TV interview Monday.

Shields laid out the stark choices facing the City in the coming year as projected revenues are expected to fall a recession-driven $8.9 million, or almost 15 percent, below this last year’s level of expenditures.

Shields, appearing as a guest on the bi-monthly TV show, “Falls Church News-Press Live,” said there remain “a lot of moving parts” in the shaping of the FY2011 budget before the Council adopts a final version on April 26.

Among the new developments in the last week, Shields noted that double the expected number of long-time City employees opted for an early-retirement offer. As of the deadline Friday, 10 employees signed up, double the five that were expected.

Also, Shields reported that in two town hall gatherings hosted by the City at the Community Center in the past week, what he considered an “outstanding” turnout of citizens expressed a preponderance of support for maintaining the quality of the curriculum in the Falls Church City Schools. The second highest priority, he noted, was for economic development efforts and the third for public safety.

“Even though these results are quantifiable, we were not taking a poll so much as looking for a more general dialogue with the community on our values and priorities,” Shields said.

But the main area where cuts have already occurred in the City’s operations is in its manpower. Shields said there were 10 unfilled positions left vacant last year, and on top of that, seven layoffs, leaving the City’s workforce of 200 short by 17 personnel. Now, with another 10 opting for early retirement, the City could wind up with a decline in its employee force of well over 10 percent. “It is clear that we are going to be a different organization when we come through this budget,” Shields said, “and we need to make sure that our citizens are aware of that fact.”

On top of that, City employees will be asked to pick up greater portions of their pension and health insurance costs to the tune of $650,000. “That amounts to less take home pay for our remaining employees,” Shields noted.

Still, the depths of the cuts or tax increases that will be required to balance the coming fiscal year budget have yet to be determined. With the new governor’s budget unveiled in Richmond, Shields said, “there could be lots of big swings between the cuts the governor, the senate and house want” that could range from an additional $300,000 in cuts in state funding for education in Falls Church, up to $700,000.

Shields indicated that the current estimated $8.9 million shortfall, in addition to wider recession-driven factors, is due to three things: 1. the decision to follow the judge’s ruling and not take $2.2 million as a “return on investment” in the City’s water fund, pending the outcome of the appeal, 2. an audit that found the City was being compensated for sales tax revenues that were being, in fact, collected by businesses outside the City, and 3. the fact the City did not raise its real estate tax by a higher amount last year due to faulty estimates and information about its expected revenues.

Shields was interviewed by News-Press Owner Nicholas Benton on the TV show.

The School Board will adopt its final budget to forward on to Shields on Tuesday, March 2. Shields will then present his proposed budget, incorporating the School Board’s, to the City Council on March 8, and the Council will have until April 26 for final adoption of the FY2011 budget.

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