Vote Set Tomorrow Night
Officials, Teachers, Board Members
By Margaret Lipman (April 24, 2005)
The Falls Church City Council will vote Monday night on a disputed School Board budget that the Council wants cut back nearly $300,000.
Under the direction of Falls Church Mayor Dan Gardner, the Falls Church City Council voted last Monday to cut $290,000 from the School Board’s requested operating budget (for fiscal year 2006, beginning July 1), sparking fierce debate between City officials, School Board members, educators and parents.
There has been considerable question as to whether that cut (which equates to a one-cent reduction in city-wide real estate taxes) would have a real impact on the operation of the schools themselves and even whether, as The Falls Church News-Press’s Nicholas Benton observed, the attempt to change the School Board’s budget is legal under the City Council’s authority.
In a publicly released letter, the School Board responded angrily to what it called an "eleventh hour, back-door" budget approach, asserting that $290,000 in the relatively small School Board budget translates to around four teachers; textbooks and materials; or the athletic and music programs. In response, however, Vice Mayor Marty Meserve stated that the cut would not harm the quality of the schools in any way, but rather represented "sound fiscal policy." Besides the dispute over the actual impact of the reduction, heated discussion remains over the status of the School Board’s contingency fund and the accuracy of the City Council’s claim that the cut is really only $150,000 because $140,000 had been added to cover a previously unnoticed expense.
This uncertainty has provoked an especially tense reaction here at George Mason, which will face its first year as an 8-12 high school under the disputed budget. Before the Council’s decision, GMHS had already eliminated $40,000 from its proposed budget – the largest reduction out of all the City’s public schools. And the School Board itself had reduced the Superintendent’s original budget proposal by $500,000 before presenting it to the Council. The possibility of difficulties in that transition could be exacerbated by a reduction in the anticipated School Board budget, school personnel fear.
Mr. Snee has encouraged educators and members of the PTSA to voice their opposition to the City Council’s plan to cut the budget.
Agreeing wholeheartedly with Mr. Snee, Falls Church Education Association president and George Mason Middle School English teacher Cay Wiant said, "We're concerned that if the school board has to cut $290,000 from the budget, it will affect the quality of instruction and teacher wages."
The reduction from the School Board budget is part of the City Council’s plan to lower real estate taxes by five cents, a measure which it hopes will counteract the escalating taxes due on Falls Church real estate, which has risen an average of almost 17 percent in assessed value. Although City Manager Dan McKeever recommended only a two-cent real estate tax reduction, the Council sought to shave off three more cents from the tax rate, which, despite being down 10 cents from 10 years ago, still leaves the average taxpayer with $400 more due in real estate taxes than last year.
The Council was able to achieve this larger cut because McKeever had slightly underestimated revenue and by raising the cigarette tax rates to their limit and by denying the City Treasurer’s Office’s request for a new tax collector position. The City could not eliminate extra funds from its own operating budget because of its new debt from the construction of Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School. So, the Council agreed to find the last cent in budget savings (around $290,000) by cutting the School Board budget.
"Please let the City Council know, through phone calls, letters, e-mails, and/or comments at the City Council meeting…that you support the School Board’s original budget request. As most of you know, the School Board does not play games with respect to its proposed budget. We do NOT ask for a higher amount, hoping to get some lower amount that reflects our true need. We determine our true need and ask for an amount that allows us to meet that need," the Falls Church City School Board wrote in a letter signed by all seven of its members.
Tell us what you think. E-mail email@example.com