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5 F.C. School Principals Spell Out Needs to Begin New Budget Cycle

PRINCIPALS OF THE 5 Falls Church City Public Schools assembled before the F.C. School Board Tuesday night to delineate the needs they’ve identified for staffing in their schools in the coming year. (Photo: News-Press)
PRINCIPALS OF THE 5 Falls Church City Public Schools assembled before the F.C. School Board Tuesday night to delineate the needs they’ve identified for staffing in their schools in the coming year. (Photo: News-Press)

In a wholly novel approach to presenting the Falls Church Public School System’s needs for the coming fiscal year, the F.C. School Board and the public Tuesday night heard directly from the principals of the system’s five schools about the predominantly enrollment-growth-driven needs for added staffing.

They, and heads of other school system departments, all claimed their needs assessments were based on core educational requirements, and the bottom line levied on the School Board was daunting.

Pressures on the system include extraordinary levels of enrollment growth in recent years and the added burden of being certified last week as the only full kindergarten-through-grade 12 International Baccalaureate school division in Virginia.

Following a report by the system’s chief financial officer Hunter Kimble that, based on current estimates, the system can expect $1.5 million in new revenue over the current year, the school and department heads’ needs as laid out Tuesday totaled $2.5 million, and this is just projected new personnel costs.

On top of that, there is a projected $814,000 in increased costs within the current system at its present level. That with the $2.5 million in new personnel needs brings the overall needs to an added $3.3 million for the coming year, or $1.8 million above a projected revenue increase.
For the $1.8 million difference to be bridged from its only possible source, the transfer from the F.C. City Council, would require an increase of about six cents on the real estate tax rate.

The meeting opened Tuesday with the election of Lawrence Webb as the new board chair and Phil Reitinger as vice chair. Webb was elected by a 5-0-1 vote (John Lawrence abstaining and Margaret Ward not present at that point), and Reitinger was a unanimous 7-0.

Webb, who served a term on the Falls Church City Council before being elected to the School Board, said upon the vote, “I come to this position with my eyes wide open. There’s a lot going on in the next three months, the choice of a new superintendent, decisions about a new high school and middle school, and this year’s budget. We move forward with humility and the opportunity to move the schools and the community forward.”

Interim Superintendent Dr. Robert Schiller set the stage for the presentations by the school principals and department heads by noting that personnel costs account for 85 percent of the overall system budget in a context of higher than projected student enrollment growth, up this year by 6.4 percent, or 161 students, ahead of the projection of 3.4 percent growth (86 students).

With 75 more students in the system, now totaling 2,670 students, than anticipated last fall, the needs assessments have been based on a projection for the coming fall of 90 new students.

The presentations made Tuesday were in keeping with what Dr. Schiller said was “an open and transparent, bottom up” approach. Former vice chair John Lawrence said that he and former chair Justin Castillo devised the approach to remove any perception by the public that the needs might be dictated by the superintendent or central office.

Thomas Jefferson Elementary principal Paul Swanson stressed to the board about the new personnel needs, “These are not wish list items.”

He called for a total of 3.5 “full time equivalent,” or FTE, staffers, including a coordinator for the IB program covering grades K-5, an encore teacher, an English as a Second Language teacher and a half-time special education teacher, in addition to an added custodian.

He also said “if there’s any big enrollment increase, we’re already at a razor’s edge in terms of classroom facilities,” and up to two new FTE teachers will be needed.

Erin Kelly, principal of the Mt. Daniel Elementary, cited needs for three FTE teachers, a FTE custodian, and near full-time kindergarten and special education paraprofessionals, and part time behavior and speech therapy specialists and first grade paraprofessional.

Ty Harris, principal of the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School, called for one FTE “encore” (music and physical education) teacher, one FTE math specialist and 0.93 FTE ESOL paraprofessional.

Matt Hills, principal of the George Mason High School, called for one FTE science teacher, one FTE guidance counselor, a 0.6 FTE math teacher, one FTE assistant athletic director, one FTE custodian, a 0.6 world languages teacher, a 0.2 theater dual enrollment teacher, a 0.6 FTE dean of students, a 0.5 FTE activities coordinator and a 0.6 FTE curriculum intervention and enrichment teacher.

Elizabeth Germer of the Thackrey Preschool called for one FTE clerical support person, and part time behavior and speech therapy specialists.

System-wide staff needs presented included one FTE special ed and student services assistant director, one FTE assistant human resources director, a one FTE program specialist, one FTE desktop/laptop support technician, a 0.7 FTE bus driver, one FTE central office project assistant, one FTE transportation specialist and a 0.375 combination office assistant and lead driver.