Local Commentary

Editorial: A Free New High School Was Rejected

On the prospect of building a totally new George Mason High School on the 38 acres now officially in the City of Falls Church limits, while requiring City taxpayers to pay for almost all of it, newly added factors include the following:

1. There’s the recent rise in interest rates that will continue and will balloon costs above the $115 million currently projected. That’s on top of the $6 million that some on the F.C. City Council want to compel residents to pay to do nothing except sit in a bank account as an added assurance for New York bond rating agencies.

2. Then there’s the suggestions for alternative approaches to education that the Schools’ new interim superintendent Dr. Robert Schiller is now articulating, and their implications for hard project “bricks and mortar” decisions.

To reiterate, the plan preferred by some on the Council would add a five-cent “banker’s pleasure” hike to the real estate tax rate this spring, long before the citizens will have an opportunity to weigh in on whether they’re willing to foot the bill for the new school. Then it would add a second five cents next year, and a third five cents the year after that, and those funds would be deployed to do nothing but sit in the bank.

Readers should be reminded here that when the 38 acres were originally ceded to the City as part of the deal to sell its water system to Fairfax County, an unsolicited proposal from a developer suggested that in exchange for the land, 10.5 acres of which can be developed commercially, the City would wind up with a free new high school. A free new high school!!

The powers that be here rejected that offer because, apparently, the developer demanded a level of density on the commercial component that was unacceptable. If the development was up by the West Falls Church Metro station, then why did they reject it? There are no existing residences there that would be impacted, and by virtue of being next to the Metro station, traffic impacts would be totally manageable.

So, in order to have less density in that corner of the land, the Council is now willing to slam City taxpayers with almost the full cost of the new school, and another $6 million to appease the New York bond agencies. No one yet knows how rising interest rates might affect these costs right now.

This is sheer madness to us. It has been the modestly robust commercial development in the City since 2001 that has kept tax rates reasonable while paying for the City’s and the schools’ operational needs, even with the pressures of growing enrollment. Why would that approach not apply to this case?

An election year is coming up for four of the seven seats on the City Council and four on the School Board.