Local Commentary

Editorial: Overstepping the Boundary Again

This month’s dust up in the Little City over how the $3 million surplus that remained at the completion of the fiscal year on June 30 has all the earmarks of the same kind of clash that has periodically broken out when some politicians seek to overstep the separate domains of the Falls Church city government and the City schools.

For all the sophistry and other dissembling verbiage that may be brought to bear on this situation, it is only the latest form of the same old conflict. In our more than 21 years providing weekly editions of our newspaper in this community, we’ve seen it repeated over and over again. It happens especially when there is a certain acrimony held by some members on the City Council over the functioning of the City’s schools.

Now, the pattern has always been, however, for such acrimony to be completely denied. But when put to the test, it takes the form of a sharp protest against the idea of committing taxpayer resources to things a substantial portion of the Council has the desire to deny.

It should be noted that prior to our being on the scene, there were many times in the earliest years of the City in the 1950s through 1970s when there was no attempt by many Council members to hide or obfuscate their hostility toward the schools.

The distinction between the two sovereign, so to speak, legal and political functions and domains of the two bodies – the City Council and School Board – came into sharper focus when citizens voted to elect their School Board in the early 1990s. It amplified the separate-but-equal standing of the two bodies as spelled out in state law and the City’s code long before.

That is, the City Council gets the final say on how much of City resources, derived through taxes and other means, it will designate for the Schools. But that’s where the Council’s authority ends. It is solely up to the Schools to work out how that money will be allocated and deployed within the system.

The temptation has been almost too much for some Council members over the years to weigh decisions on allocations to the School Board by judging whether one or another School program should be funded, or not. But that is not the function of the Council to determine. It cannot micromanage within the School Board’s area of authority.

In the current case, some on Council are seeking to get around that constraint by allocating the entire surplus (aside from portions marked for legal and other contingencies) to “capital improvement project” (CIP) use, thus designating none of it for School operations.

But that is just the kind of technicality that some have sought to exploit over the years in the seemingly unending wars between stingy taxpayers and too-young-to-vote children who are hoping to cope in the world with the benefit of a good education.

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