Reeling from Monday night’s 4-3 Falls Church City Council vote to cut $912,000 from their budget request, the Falls Church School Board met Tuesday night in the conference room of their offices in the Flower Building, and were pressed by Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones to make a prompt decision on how to absorb the cuts in terms of teacher salaries.
The rush was due to the fact that Jones and Assistant Superintendent Lisa High are currently in the process of interviewing for new positions, as are other jurisdictions who could be wooing Falls Church teachers this spring.
The immediate decision was to accommodate a portion of the cut by eliminating 20 percent of the salary increases that had been built into the School Board budget to maintain the competitiveness of the system with others in the region. The removal of that increase, in a year when there is no “step” increases provided for the teachers and staff and in which health care premiums are soaring, could prove critical to the soundness of the Falls Church system even now.
But in a spirit of sacrifice, all the members of the School Board present Tuesday said they’d forego their modest salaries from being on the School Board, if their colleagues on the City Council did likewise. That would ante up almost enough money to make up for the 20 percent across-the-board teacher salary cut.
School Board chair Justin Castillo said he would be in touch with his Council counterpart, Mayor David Tarter, to feel out Council sentiment on that proposal.
“I get emotional about this because of the great people we have here,” High told the Board Tuesday. “Retaining is as important as hiring, and I fear if people feel we are no longer committed to the plan to bring salaries within a three-to-five percent range of neighboring Arlington, they may start having second thoughts.”
Board Chair Castillo began the discussion of the budget by saying, “This is going to be difficult. It is most troubling to me that the cuts were made in a vacuum of comments. We need to let people know, to spread the pain as uniformly as possible, and no one will be spared.”
He suggested that “it will be impossible to keep whole our class sizes and levels of compensation of our teachers.”
While the decision on salary levels was needed almost immediately, other proposals to cut the budget may be decided at the School Board’s next business meeting on Tuesday, May 3, when it is supposed to vote on a revised budget.
One of the options put before the board Tuesday by Jones and Chief Financial Officer Hunter Kimble proposed cuts of a George Mason computer science teachers, the removal of a plan to lease-purchase two buses, to eliminate position for a system-wide project assistant, and to lower the contribution to the OPEB fund.
Those are on top of the proposed 20 percent reduction in teacher salary improvements, and a reduction in the teacher “topped out bonus.”
Other possible reductions presented included an elementary school position, a Mt. Daniel assistant principal position, a part-time gifted teacher position, two paraprofessional days, and a first grade paraprofessional.
Smaller amounts were listed as potential cuts in classroom materials and supplies, textbook adoptions and replacements, library books and materials, computer software and supplies, security camera replacements and staff uniforms.
Other cuts were in staff development, the distinguished scholar program, NBCT stipends, substitute usage, the elementary Strings EPED, pre-K contracted music and the contingency reserve.
Laura McNamara, a teacher at Mt. Daniel, warned of the effect of “draconian cuts” and said she’s finding parents expressing “more and more anger” at them. She urged the retention of the plan for a new assistant principal position at the school because of its enrollment growth.
Farrell Kelly, a teacher at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School, said that salary increases this year “really matter” to the teachers, given the rising health care premium costs that will mean a number will be taking home less than this year.