With confirmation from Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields on the release of the new real estate assessments for the City used to craft the budget Tuesday, the School Board learned that it will be constrained by the same $1.7 million budget increase it was allotted, inclusive of City, state and federal funds estimates, in December.
The assessed real estate value growth of 3.6 percent being in line with earlier forecasts (see News Briefs, page 9), the $1.7 million allotment is based on keeping the real estate tax rate of $1.315 per $100 in assessed values even with the current year.
But with the explosive enrollment growth this year, the 6.4 percent growth being well ahead of projections, the School Board is confronted with asking for significantly more than the $1.7 million constraint, and it put off until next Tuesday its final decisions on what its ask to the general government will be.
Meanwhile, Interim School Superintendent Dr. Robert Schiller and new School Board chair Lawrence Webb were due to present the budget options, after the News-Press was due to go to press last night, to a joint meeting of the City’s three PTA/PTSA (parent-teacher and parent-teacher-student) groups.
Whatever final budget product the School Board adopts next Tuesday, state law provides that the dollar value of that budget must be adopted without modification by City Manager Wyatt Shields in the crafting of his recommended overall city/school operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Once he’s made his recommendation, the City Council will determine the final parameters of the budget by late April, with whatever program or funding cuts and tax rate modifications it will decide upon.
The fact that this is a City Council (and School Board) election year will be a relevant factor, as well. The tension between the City’s and schools’ operational needs and the need to keep the tax rate reasonable has been with the City every year of its over 70-year history, and will be even more acutely true this year.
Last year, the Council cut $912,000 of the school board’s request, and a lot of pain ensued for the schools. But that was in the context of a 3.5 percent enrollment growth. With the enrollment growth almost doubled this year, the programmatic needs of the schools are even greater.
But in the delineation of funding options for the school budget, the combination of fixed cost commitments, such as retirement and health insurance premium costs, and mandates, mostly related to special education programs, staying within the $2.7 million has left the schools with only $1,149,400 for new expenditures.
The school board’s priority list to date absorbs all of that in a professional staff step increase ($680,600), a five percent support staff salary increase ($353,000), a three percent leadership and administration increase of three percent ($89,100), a renewed four-year lease of computers, including revenue proceeds from the sell-back of the older computers (a net plus of over $300,000), an adjustment of all schools’ materials and supplies to FY15 levels and bringing Thomas Jefferson Elementary into parity with the levels at the other schools (a cost of $114,000), and increase in the contingency ($71,000), a 0.7 FTE (full time equivalent) bus driver ($29,350) and two new custodians to accommodate the more than 45,000 square feet of additional space added to the schools in recent years ($93,000).
All other needs identified by the principals of the five schools in the system in addition to these would require an increase above the $1.7 million allotment, and therefore an implied increase in the tax rate if adopted.
Included in what the school board is inclined to adopt are programs that would total $400,700 and add a penny to the real estate tax rate. They include a 0.6 FTE world languages teacher for Mason High and Henderson Middle School, a 1.0 FTE Mt. Daniel kindergarten teacher, a 0.938 FTE Mt. Daniel kindergarten paraprofessional, a 1.0 FTE systemwide human resources director, a 0.5 FTE Thackrey Preschool administration support person and a 0.5 FTE Jefferson Elementary ESOL (English as a Second Language) teacher.
Beyond that are almost 15 FTE positions that the principals have stated they need to keep pace with enrollment growth, including science, math and music teachers, guidance counselors and administrators.
Those needs bring a combined price tag of $1,511,600, or another four cents on the tax rate.