Proposed School Budget Freezes Pay, Increases Class Size

By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

January 11, 2011

“Is this the budget I wanted to deliver to the School Board and staff?  Hell no.  It is as fiscally responsible as I could be without decimating our school system any more than I have done.  My biggest disappointment is not being able to reward the staff that make the system the great system it is.  .  . My hope is that times will get better.”  Her voice breaking, Superintendent Lois Berlin thus concluded her presentation of the FY 2012 budget to the Falls Church City School Board this evening.   

Dr. Berlin proposed a $37.7 million dollar budget, an increase of $297,810 or .08% over that of the previous year.  The budget asks for a City transfer of $27,858,00, a $3,600 reduction from the FY 2011 transfer.  The superintendent, who is retiring at the end of the current term, described the budget’s development as the most difficult in her seven years in office. 

Decreasing tax revenues, increasing Virginia Retirement System (VRS) and health care costs, and growing enrollment have made for a difficult budget process.  Dr. Berlin stated that she projects an increase of 79 students or 3.8% for 2011-12.  Most of this will occur at Thomas Jefferson, Mary Ellen Henderson, and George Mason.  As no additional staffing is included in the budget, class sizes will be larger.  The total projected September enrollment is 2,133.

Fixed costs and inflation over which the system has no control are responsible for the biggest increases.  Health care is expected to increase $237,300 (10%), VRS  $386,400 (34%).  Some employees are under the City retirement system, which anticipates an increase of $129,400 (49%).  Although no reductions in positions are planned, there will be no salary adjustments or cost of living increases.  New employees will be asked to contribute 4% of their salary to the VRS.

The budget includes $375,500 in reductions, primarily $192,700 in salary and benefits and the elimination of $100,000 in stimulus funds.  Telecommunications and utility costs also have been reduced. 

In an effort to improve student achievement, the budget provides for such enhancements as additional reading and English teacher time at George Mason, more Spanish teacher time at Thomas Jefferson, and system wide autism specialist support.   However, the budget also proposes a $50 student fee for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams.

The School Board will vote on the budget on February 15.  Three public hearings will be held prior to that date, the first on January 25.  Board Chair Joan Wodiska urged all residents to attend not only the school hearings but also those held by the City Council.

A video of Dr. Berlin’s presentation is available at the School’s website.

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January 11, 2011 

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11 Responses to “Proposed School Budget Freezes Pay, Increases Class Size”

  1. Mike Smith, Falls Church on January 12th, 2011 10:22 am

    I went to the Schools’ website to look at the presentation. I see they still have an intem for “beginning balance” of $1,100,000. Every year that is explained as the amount not spent the prior year that gets rolled into the next year. If they are not spending over a million dollars every year, why can’t they identify what they aren’t spending and cut that?

    Is this too simple?

  2. Jim Hennessey on January 12th, 2011 4:21 pm

    Mike, I think that may be too simple. It seems to me you need a small balance of funds as a reserve so that you don’t run your checking account down to zero, or to an overdrawn position, at the end of the year (i.e., bounce checks at the end of the fiscal year). While the dollars are large — $1.1 million — it is only 3.1% of the total budget. Or put another way, 10 or 11 days operating funds out of a 365 day year.

    Importantly, if unused at the end of the year, I think it may go into the beginning balance line item of the budget for the next year. I think this may be the answer.

  3. name not given on January 12th, 2011 9:50 pm

    Particularly given this budget situation, I think the City schools need to do way more to ensure that the children who attend our schools actually live in the City or pay tuition. There are families that rent apartments or buy condos in the City simply to use the address for the schools and then sublease it to someone else to cover the cost – yes, this is going on. People do it without a care or a worry. The schools check for utility bills, leases, etc. the first year, but they need to do it every year. A signed promise of still living in the City is not enough. They should also make a public example of those who violate the rules by severely fining them.

  4. TFC on January 13th, 2011 7:45 am

    @name not given: For real? How extensive is this problem? If you personally know of this situation, have you reported your concerns to the school?

  5. name not given on January 13th, 2011 9:44 am

    Yes, for real. I personally know of three instances. I know the family in one of the three. The others are reliable second-hand information. No, I have not reported anyone. Judge me if you will, but that would very difficult on many levels. Who wants to be the person to do that? I feel the appropriate steps should be taken by the schools.

  6. Mike Smith, Falls Church on January 13th, 2011 11:47 am

    Jim:

    I understand your point about running the checking account to zero, but bear in mind the City and the Schools use the same checking account maintained by our very capable Treasurer. No worries about overdrawing the account. As for the $1.1 million being “only” 3.1% of the budget not being spent on whatever, put that in context of the Council arguing over the cost of the Halloween event and the easter egg hunt. “Only” $1.1 million (“only” 3 cents on the tax rate) could go a long way toward covering other expenses.

  7. Jim Hennessey on January 13th, 2011 12:11 pm

    Mike,

    You don’t seem to understand. The $1.1 million actually is money leftover from last year that was not spent that is part of the operating balance — just as most people typically have money in their checking account even if their monthly income is matched by their monthly expenses (i.e., they have no net savings for the month).

    As for the statement as to the City and Schools using the same checking account. I would want that confirmed. In many cases I am aware of through my consulting to financial institutions, school districts have their own operating accounts which are separate from the checking accounts of the municipalities of which they are a part of.

  8. Mike Smith, Falls Church on January 13th, 2011 2:20 pm

    Jim:

    Confirm away. One account at BB&T for Schools and City. You can check with either the Treasurer or the Finance Director.

    You don’t seem to understand where I am coming from on this. Every year the Schools have money left over from underspending which they roll over to the next year and they don’t spend it again. Interestingly, that is in the City Charter, in the rest of the State schools’ surplusses are returned to the general fund of the City or County (there is a code section on this, which I am sure I will end up looking up on the State’s website) . The prior CFO used to complain about this all the time.

  9. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on January 13th, 2011 4:41 pm

    Mike, is it true that the schools have money left over from underspending – or is it roughly the same amount each year? I mean, did they have $1.1M left over years ago and each year they’re allocated more money, that they spend, and then end up with the same amount left over?

    I’m not sure it really matters (especially if it’s the same bank account) since the City has to maintain some kind of fund balance (which would include any balance the schools have), right?

  10. Mike Smith, Falls Church on January 14th, 2011 9:11 am

    Andy:

    Tha amount varies from year to year. It used to be much lower and seems to have grown to the $1.1 million over the last couple of years. Since the School’s budget document is just a print out it is beyond my poor powers of analysis to figure out where this carry over is coming from.

    You are right that as long as the City has a fund balance the Schools don’t need one. It’s all in a joint account and I cannot conceive of a situation where the City would not pay the School’s bills (that is, unless the City runs out of money, but let’s not go there).

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