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Proposed School Budget Seeks Raises, Student Aid

BALANCING OUT the costs of the new high school are the City’s development projects, which according to the Council, should bring in 2.7 percent revenue growth for Falls Church. (Photo: News-Press)

Falls Church City Public Schools Superintendent Peter Noonan presented a $53.6 million Fiscal Year 2022 operating budget to the Falls Church School Board on Jan. 12. Noonan told the School Board at its meeting Tuesday that his proposed budget is balanced, falls within Falls Church City Council budget guidance, provides a wage increase for school employees and additional supports for students.

“With the recent announcement of vaccine distributions beginning, we can all hope we are at the beginning of the end of what has indeed been a challenging year for everyone,” Dr. Noonan said. “This budget reflects the next steps toward shoring up any Covid-related slide — a salary increase for our exceptional staff, and additional instructional and emotional support for our students and families.”

Noonan’s proposed budget includes a Step increase for eligible employees and a half percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for all staff members.
When Noonan first announced during a budget guidance joint meeting with the City Council last month that he wanted Step and COLA increases, it loomed as an almost certain potential conflict with the Council budget guidance. That guidance was based on holding expenditures overall within the limits of the projected revenue increases for the City such that there will be no residential real estate tax rate increase.

But it turns out that working with the numbers in the meantime and taking the Council’s projected 2.7 percent overall increase in revenues for the coming year into account, that Noonan said Tuesday his budget will indeed fit within the overall budget scheme.

Noting it is the third year in a row that the School Board budget request of the City will fall within the Council’s guidance, Noonan said that he expects it to be “smooth sailing” during the annual budget deliberations this spring.
It is seen by many as remarkable that the City is actually projecting the 2.7 percent revenue growth in the coming year given the overwhelming impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. But the growth comes from the ongoing building of new large scale projects that developers are bringing to the City despite the pandemic, a fact that almost no other jurisdiction enjoys.

Noonan said that enrollment in the Falls Church system is down overall by 182 students, but that it will pick up as the impact of the Covid-19 vaccines will bring back in-class learning this spring. Even so, the temporary dropoff in enrollment is “not enormous,” he said.

In the compensation package included in Noonan’s proposed budget, the average compensation for teachers puts the City’s system second behind only Loudoun County for teachers with bachelors and Masters degrees, and fourth regionally for those with Ph.D’s.

Proposed budget expenditures include a projected increase in health insurance and investments to address Covid impacts on the school system. These include the addition of a school counselor bringing the number to two counselors at each of the elementary schools, an additional social worker to assist with the families’ mental health coming out of the Covid pandemic, and a PreK-12 English/Language Arts coordinator to support teachers and students. The budget also includes three additional custodial staff for the newly opened high school.

“These increases will allow us to address some of our most pressing needs,” Noonan said. “But in any budget process, there are more requests than there is money available. Consequently, we weigh competing interests against the priorities and values of the school division and made hard decisions.”

The proposed FY22 budget, including the overall 2.7 percent increase in the current year funding, involves a requests for a City transfer increase of $1.1 million. There will be multiple opportunities for the community to weigh in before the School Board adopts its final advertised budget on Feb. 23 and presents it to the City Council on Monday, March 8.

The first public hearing on the School Board budget will be Feb. 9 and the School Board will adopt its budget on Feb. 23. The City Council’s final vote on the new fiscal year budget, including the transfer amount to the Schools, will come April 26.

Meanwhile, Noonan announced Tuesday the plans for the vaccination of School system employees now that the state is entering into Phase 1b of the process. It will mean, he said, that 5,000 shots are being deployed to school workers in the state and that will include 200 for the Falls Church schools in the first week (presumably later this week).

Another 200 will be deployed in the second week.

After the third week, all employees who want shots will have received their first, and the fourth week will begin the second shots. So far, he said, 426 out of 500 employees want the shots.

This will speed the return to regular classroom conditions, he said, though it will be hybrid as even when vaccinated, a person can still spread the virus to others.