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Noonan to F.C. School Board: Our Costs Outstrip ‘Guidance’

MEMBERS OF THE FALLS CHURCH School Board are shown with Superintendent Peter Noonan (far right) at their meeting Tuesday to mull new City Council budget “guidance.” (Photo: News-Press)

Upon learning of the official budget guidance for the coming fiscal year approved by the Falls Church City Council Monday night, Falls Church City Public Schools Superintendent Peter Noonan counseled the School Board Tuesday night that minimal school needs for the coming year are already in excess of that guidance number.

The Council voted 6-0 to call for constraining the new budget to the anticipated organic revenue growth expected at two percent, or an added $1.7 million. With a big chunk of that modest increase going to WMATA ($400,000), health insurance cost hikes ($200,000) and City employee compensation ($200,000) having to split the remainder between the City operating and School budgets would leave only $450,000 in other new expenses for each.

But as Noonan pointed out Tuesday, added School system costs estimated at $300,000 for health insurance premium increases, a cost-of-living increase of one percent for 500 employees at $400,000, a step salary increase at $800,000 and increased substitute teacher compensation at $50,000 adds up to $1,550,000, or more than a million dollars above what the Council “guidance” appears to propose.

Noonan said he will have a more comprehensive review, a “working document” of these issues, to present to the School Board at its next meeting on Tuesday. It will presumably include the impact of the anticipated 54 new students added to the system next fall.

Step increases, he indicated Monday, represent what are “implied contracts” with employees, who constitute 86 percent of the schools’ budget. Last year saw no step increase for the school employees. Annual cost-of-living and step increases are the “Holy Grail” for employees in the system, he said.

In his “working document” due next Tuesday, Noonan suggested that he will lay out at least three options, or tiers, to the school board to be the basis for their discussion.

“I am rather optimistic on some respects,” Noonan said, offering little explanation except that he said he met with City Manager Wyatt Shields during the day Tuesday to mull options. He also said he had the honor of meeting with two previous superintendents of the Falls Church system on separate occasions this week, Stuart Robertson and Mary Ellen Shaw.

The tentative plan is to replace the gym floor at the Henderson Middle School, damaged by two unrelated water incidents, with a multi-purpose rubberized floor that will still qualify the gym as a competition site for Virginia High School League events.
He noted that all the temporary classroom trailers will be gone from the expanded Mt. Daniel Elementary site by the end of the winter break, and a deal has been worked out for temporary parking at the High Point Pool until the parking lot at Mt. Daniel is completed in January.

The School Board approved a calendar for the 2019-2020 year that begins just after Labor Day and runs to June 17 inclusive of 180 days of instruction, a two-week window at Christmas and a week of spring break running from April 6 – 13.

Construction of the new high school on athletic fields is set to begin next June and ready for occupancy by December 2020.

An unofficial survey showed 64 percent of school staff, he said, would like the school year to begin before Labor Day, and anecdotal student comments suggested many would appreciate the additional class time an earlier start would provide to prepare for fall IB and other testing.