Tuesday night Peter Noonan, superintendent of the Falls Church City Public Schools, presented a $54.6 million Fiscal Year 2021 recommended budget falling within the 3.1 percent growth guidelines set by the F.C. City Council last month that includes a full step and one percent cost-of-living increase for the system’s teachers and staff.
It marks the second straight year that Noonan’s proposed budget has come within the guideline parameters of the Council, due in part to a more generous Council guidance (it was 2 percent a year ago) and the new Democratic-controlled government in Richmond that is promising, via the governor’s proposed budget, increased financial support from the state.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Noonan said, “We are grateful for the support that our City Council, School Board, and community have provided for our new high school, and recognizing those efforts we have again developed a budget that allows us to address our most pressing needs and provide a competitive wage for employees while also meeting Budget Guidance from the City Council. With increases in both local and state funding this year we are continuing the investment into our three goals: IB for All, Caring Community and Culture, and Closing Gaps.”
While including the proposed step increase for eligible employees at a cost of $971,814 and a one percent COLA for all staff members (at a cost of $409,183), the budget proposal has no reduction in staff size like last year and instead includes a second middle school International Baccalaureate coordinator, an English and language arts boost, two part time (one full-time equivalent) social workers, contract length adjustments, a preschool clinic personnel post and added custodial support to handle the 100,000 additional square feet at the new George Mason high school now slated for completion next December. Other proposed expenditures include projected increases in health insurance and the employer contribution rate for the state-mandated Virginia Retirement System.
In December, the City Council approved a Budget Guidance of 3.1 percent or a $1.3 million increase. The governor’s proposed budget included additional state aid impacted by re-benchmarking and increases in sales tax providing FCCPS with additional funding. “These increases will allow us to address some of our most pressing needs,” Noonan said.
The proposed FY 21 budget is an overall 4.4 percent increase in the current FY2020 budget, with the portion above the 3.1 percent Council guidance coming from the state and other sources. It requests a City transfer increase of $1.3 million that is within City Council 3.1 percent budget guidance.
Noonan cited projections by the Weldon Cooper group in Charlottesville that enrollment in the F.C. system can be expected to increase by a total of 37 students next September to a total of 2,698 students in the system, down by 13 in kindergarten and down by about 60 in the sixth grade, but up in others to offset. As a result, he said, no additional teaching positions will be required, and there will also be no cuts in positions as there were last year.
Noonan hailed what he called a “blooming renaissance” in the system and the City centered around, but not limited to, the new high school that is on schedule for completion by the end of December. The F.C. City Council has been invited to a “hard hat tour day” at the site to examine progress on the construction the same day as the Council’s scheduled “retreat” on Saturday, Jan. 25.
In his budget presentation, Noonan linked all the major funding categories to one of the three guiding values of the system: International Baccalaureate for all, a caring community and culture, and closing the gaps that separate levels of performance for the students. The aim, he said, is to create “one of the best systems in Virginia and around the country.”
He noted the Standards of Learning (SOL) pass rates in the system exceeded 90 percent in all five categories, and that 72 percent of students achieve an advanced diploma, compared to the state average of 51.5 percent, and that the dropout rate is zero, compared to the state average of 5.6 percent.
Noonan added that 86 percent of junior or senior students in the Falls Church system take one or more International Baccalaureate courses, with the number of IB diplomas up from 40 to 47 in the last year.
Added revenues expected, he said, total $971,814 from additional state aid, sales tax revenues and the 3.1 percent City increase. He said potential one-time expenditures including $474,000 for four electric buses that have been requested and $200,000 for Henderson Middle School facilities improvements.
Unfunded program requests, he said, total $794.284 that include added Career and Technical Education (CTE) instructors, special ed and custodial support.
The cost per pupil is $17,962 in the system, second only to Arlington in the region. But he said if the F.C. system were to permit more than its current limit on average classroom size, to correspond with other higher limits in the region, the cost per pupil would drop to midway among the region’s school systems (although staying well above the region’s lowest, Manassas Park at just over $11,000).
Next Tuesday, Jan. 21, the School Board will hold its first in-depth work session on the proposed budget. The public will have multiple opportunities to comment on the proposed budget before the School Board adopts a final version on Feb. 18 and sends it to the City Council to be folded into the City Manager Wyatt Shields’ overall FY21 operating budget recommendation on March 9 and the Council’s final budget adoption on April 27.