By Dr. Toni Jones
I am delighted to have an opportunity to not only thank our community for the continuous support of Falls Church City Public Schools, but to also say thank you to our staff and students who make the school system unique and special. Falls Church is a wonderful community filled with talented individuals who come together collectively to create one of the best small cities in America. As our School Board carefully considers my proposed budget request that will fund the next school year, the theme is similar to the past few years.
FCCPS continues to see rapidly increasing student enrollment. Over the course of the next three years we expect to enroll an additional 559 children. To put that into perspective, that’s slightly larger than the entire student body currently at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School.
As we gather data and analyze trends, we know we are currently the fastest growing school division in Northern Virginia. This year FCCPS has grown another 6.1% – far outpacing the general population growth of “The Little City.” Our scenario is much different than our neighbors. For instance, the growth of Fairfax County and its schools almost a mirror each other 1%-2%. An analysis of the demographic data shows our school growth is climbing at a rate much faster than our overall population because we simply have more families with children who want to become a part of this wonderful community.
In FCCPS, we work hard to make sure our annual student projections are as accurate as possible. We work closely with the well-respected Weldon Cooper Center at UVA to analyze how many children are born to families who actually reside in Falls Church. Kindergarten has been the most challenging cohort for us. Many families move to Falls Church specifically when it’s time to begin school. Our projections have been keenly accurate for the past few years, and we will continue our due diligence to analyze data from multiple sources in order to budget with precision.
Increased enrollment drives the need for more staff. Our School Board has made a commitment to maintaining relatively small class sizes, and the budget is reflective of that mission. The FY2015 budget calls for additional staff at almost every grade level to keep class sizes within both School Board policy and state mandated targets. We are not aiming for tiny classes. The class sizes set by the School Board are responsible targets of 22 students in K-2 for early childhood and 24 students per classroom in 3rd grade and higher.
To keep the budget as refined as possible, FCCPS has worked to shift resources from administration back to the classroom. The School Board commissioned an external Efficiency Study from an independent company which was completed in December, 2013. They looked at eight essential areas of the school division’s operations. Gibson Consulting noted that FCCPS has decreased administrative costs by 6.1% since 2011. Our current spending per student is almost dollar for dollar today where we were in 2007, almost eight years ago. While we are doing more with less it hasn’t changed our vision to be focused on excellence for our students, staff, and community. Every effort is being made by FCCPS to bring forth an annual budget that is responsible and focused on critical needs mandated by rapidly increasing student growth.
We are grateful for the strong partnership we have with the Falls Church City staff, and we were delighted that both entities were commended by Gibson Consulting for the vast array of services we share with one another. We partner in everything from our financial software, grounds maintenance, bus maintenance, snow removal, and more. Most recently, we have joined forces on construction – utilizing one common construction team – as we work to develop two adjacent properties. The City is focusing on a major storm water project while FCCPS is constructing a new Pre-Kindergarten facility on Cherry Street. This joint effort has required a lot of City and Schools cooperation, and has allowed us to provide a cost savings to the community through our joint efforts. We are excited about the future for FCCPS, and the strong partnership we share with our colleagues on the City staff.
My proposed budget goes through tough analysis and scrutiny as the School Board does its due diligence in analyzing every aspect of each proposed expenditure. We encourage our community to attend our work sessions, and to log on to www.fccps.org, click on the FY15 Budget button and study all of our documents. We are all proud of our schools and our community, and it’s no wonder people want to move here. It’s probably for the same reason each one of us chose to move here too. We have a great Little City with lots of wonderful people.
Toni Jones is the Superintendent of Falls Church City Public Schools.