Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: School Board Budget Supports 5 Pillars of Excellence

It’s spring in Falls Church and that can only mean one thing: what Dave Chavern calls ‘Silly Season’ is upon us, also known as budget time for our Little City. On March 6, the FCCPS School Board adopted budget recommendations for FY13, and I want to share our recommendations with all residents of the City.

The FCCPS School Board’s FY13 budget furthers our vision of providing a world class education for every child, and aligns with our 5 Pillars of Excellence: small schools, small classes, outstanding staff, 21st century teaching and learning, and readiness to learn. It is also respectful of the City’s current financial condition.

Here’s how the numbers shake out.

The Bottom Line: The operating budget request of $37,603,600 is an increase of 5.3%. It includes a City transfer of $29,475,200, an increase of about $2 million dollars or 7.3%. There is both good news and bad news here.

First the good news: With this transfer we are back to FY09 funding levels in terms of dollars.

Now the bad news: We have 14% more kids in the schools now than we did in FY09, so spending per pupil has fallen dramatically from $18,386 in FY09 to $16,521 in FY13. In FY13 it will be about the same as it was in FY06 (yes, that’s not a typo, it’s FY06). In addition, with this transfer amount the City’s investment in the schools will account for only 43% of the City’s FY13 budget, the lowest percentage in many years, and lower than surrounding school districts against which we benchmark ourselves. (See my previous commentary in this paper for more information).

If the school system is truly the jewel of our Little City we must invest more, and soon.

Now, what’s in the budget?

Small Schools

The FCCPS School Board is committed to keeping our schools small. Our Capital Improvement Program (CIP) budget requests funds to renovate or rebuild Cherry Street for a Pre-Kindergarten facility, to expand and upgrade Mount Daniel, and to complete the second phase of the Thomas Jefferson project. This puts to rest the notion of a mega K-5 elementary at the Thomas Jefferson site, which would have housed more than 1,000 students by 2013-2014.

Small Classes

14% more students without additional staff means large classes. That’s not the Falls Church way. This budget includes new teaching positions in kindergarten, first grade, fourth grade, sixth grade, and seventh grade aimed at reducing class sizes to meet our standards. There are also 2 additional special education positions at George Mason.

21st Century Teaching and Learning

We have worked hard during this budget cycle to keep instruction at the forefront. The budget funds hybrid learning at George Mason, which blends high quality online content with our outstanding teaching. Last year more than 72 online courses were taken by GM students from other providers around the country. It’s time that we offer this service to our students. The budget also includes funds for dual enrollment, where both high school and college credit are earned by taking a single class, and better tools for real time assessment.

 

If the school system is truly the jewel of our Little City we must invest more, and soon.

 

Outstanding Staff

We want to attract and retain the best staff. Period. This budget places a priority on compensating staff by including a full step for the first time in several years. In addition, we are closing the salary gap for our most desired teachers – veteran teachers who hold a Masters degree. When compared to neighboring districts, the pay gap for many of these teachers is more than $10,000 annually. This budget provides them with an additional 1% or 2% salary increase.

Readiness to Learn

The School Board is committed to making sure that every child in Falls Church is fed and ready to learn. In previous years we have funded free lunch for qualifying students and instituted a breakfast program at each school. The FY13 Budget provides a weekend and summer backpack program to make sure that no child is hungry. We will also engage the community in a book drive so that these children’s backpacks will also contain a new or gently used book that they can read at home.

Does this budget fully fund school needs? No, but it is what we believe is responsible right now. Technology, staff compensation and professional development, and classroom materials were all victims of tight budgets over the past several years. Then there is George Mason, where an extensive renovation or rebuild is required. These must be addressed starting with the FY14 budget.

This is the top line. To learn more about the budget, please attend the Town Hall meeting on March 17, or visit the school division website at www.fccps.org and click on the FY13 Budget link.

 

 


 

Susan Kearney is the chair of the Falls Church City School Board.

 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*