Local Commentary

Editorial: Sheer Lunacy

It borders on sheer lunacy, and Falls Church is unable to keep it to itself. It’s unfortunately one of those reputation “building” things that can wind up having a disproportionately strong effect on an ability to attract the best families, the most creative people and businesses and teachers in the future.

The action of the leadership on Falls Church City Council Monday night has left the City reeling with a buffoonish fund balance squatting in the bank that now approaches 23 percent of its annual budget while both the public image and realities facing the City’s school system are being severely eroded for lack of basic computer technology upgrades for students throughout the system.

A big, obscenely fat fund balance on the one hand, a school system starved for updated technology for its students on the other.

The Council leadership Monday, by forcing the defeat of three motions to utilize some of the more than $3 million surplus from the previous fiscal year, not only torpedoed the City Schools’ urgent request for $500,000 in technology upgrades, but dashed a plan to rebate some of the surplus to taxpayers while leaving the City in a lurch without funding for payments to WMATA and HUD.

This is a fiasco of the first order, and could have been avoided if only a best, good faith effort was made to ensure no vote was taken on such a hotly-contested and important issue without the full Council, including the one member absent Monday. The measures failed with 3-3 votes, but only because the leadership insisted on voting rather than waiting even 24 hours to try to get everyone there.

Not only was the procedure gravely flawed, but so has been the consequence. The Internet is sizzling with the news of how the Falls Church City Council stiffed the School Board’s urgent appeal to begin catching up on technology, and what that may mean not only for the quality of education, but for the real estate property values here that are propped up by the reputation of that school system.

One Council member went so far as to suggest the School Board has squirreled away millions, repeating the serious allegation even as the School Board has historically engaged in one of the most transparent processes of budgeting imaginable. The School Board has been overly transparent if only to show the City Council how budget cuts in recent years, in the face of robust enrollment growth, has squeezed the system to the limit.

So now what? We’re hearing that citizens are setting up countdown clocks to the November 2013 City Council election. Parents who have sat out previous Council elections are sharpening their pitchforks. The last thing those on the Council who voted against the schools Monday needed in this heavily-Democratic town was for their stance to be endorsed by the City’s Republican Committee, especially with a partisan governor’s race due on that same November 2013 ballot.

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