Local Commentary

Editorial: The Next F.C. Budget Cycle

It was a deft move by the Falls Church City Public Schools’ leadership to hold a ceremonial ribbon cutting of the completed renovations at the Mt. Daniel Elementary School this week in advance of the first joint City Council, School Board pre-next budget cycle meeting Monday night.

A formal community-wide event marking the completion of the renovation project will be held next month when the parking lot component of the effort is completed, but this week’s ceremony, held for the benefit of a small group of school and City Hall insiders, set the right tone for the next budget cycle kickoff.

Normally what has happened in recent years at the first joint meeting is, in the wake of a preliminary projection of anticipated revenues for the coming fiscal year (FY20 will run from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020), the School Board, as well as the “City side,” gets told it must limit the growth in its budget to a number that is derived from the projection, and not from the actual organic needs of the students in the system or the operating needs of the community. This is predicated on a zero growth projection for the tax rate, although we all know there will be an increase in the coming year due to the bond issuance for the construction of the new George Mason High School.

We will all learn the gory details of what has already been signaled to the City Council by City Manager Wyatt Shields as an anticipated poor revenue growth projection at Monday’s meeting. It is expected that the “City side” will be advised to hold its budget to zero growth, or less, and that the School side, without regard for projected enrollment growth predictions, to under two percent.

However, how can you look at the happy picture published in yesterday’s School Bulletin of three smiling Mt. Daniel principals, Tim Kasik (current), Kathy Halayko and Erin Truesdell (former) cutting the ribbon next to the school mascot, Danny the Very Purple Hippo, and not want for the schools everything they really need for another year of academic success? After all, why are citizens being asked to spend so much on the bricks and mortar needed to house the school system and its students if the material needs of the system — especially the salaries of its teachers — are shortchanged?

We have our fingers crossed that revenue projections will exceed the surprisingly sparse forecast that first surfaced earlier this month. The big money from the three huge commercial development projects — the West End on the high school site, the Founders Row where clearing the land is beginning and the Broad and Washington site which will boom in the wake of the Amazon announcement — is still a few years off, and citizens need to be assured now that they will eventually cause the tax rate to go down significantly.