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.
By George Bromley
January 11, 2011