Wodiska Reports Low Morale in Schools; Gateway Project Advances
By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff
January 25, 2011
Falls Church School Board chair Joan Wodiska advised the City Council yesterday evening that staff morale is “at an all time low.” Ms. Wodiska offered this bleak assessment after having met with teachers at all City schools in recent weeks.
The chair’s comments were delivered in the course of her report on the Board’s struggle with the schools’ FY 2012 budget. Outgoing superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin has recommended a zero growth budget for the coming fiscal year, but Ms. Wodiska described this as effectively a cut, given the expected increase in student enrollment. Citing their dedication, she noted that teachers have stated their preference for smaller class sizes and better working conditions over raises.
Ms. Wodiska said that individual School Board member’s views on the budget range from accepting Dr. Berlin’s recommendation to asking for a 4% increase in the amount of the school transfer. The Board will submit its budget to the Council on February 15.
Council reaction to the chair’s comments was sympathetic but cautious, reflecting concern over the impact of the schools’ needs on the overall City budget. Vice Mayor Dave Snyder observed that while there are many people who want to preserve the schools, there are many people, particularly senior citizens, who are being taxed out of their houses. “Quality education is still a major commitment but so are quality city services,” he added.
Councilwoman Robin Gardner said she was willing to entertain any budget that the Board presents, but did not want that budget impacting decisions city manager Wyatt Shields had to make concerning City operations. “I want to make sure staff on both sides are being treated fairly and equitably,” she said.
Councilman Ron Peppe estimated that it would probably take a lot of work to come in with something flat. “We certainly don’t want to set expectations at an unrealistic level,” he cautioned.
Gateway Special Exceptions Approved – The Council unanimously (7-0) approved the second reading of two special exceptions for the mixed use Gateway project in the 500 block of N. Washington St. The exceptions cover an 18′ increase in height over the 55′ limit for the office building and a zoning change from transitional (T-1) to limited business (B-2). The Planning Commission approved the exceptions on January 18.
Developed by Akridge, the Gateway will feature a five story, 200 condominium unit residential building and a five story office building, both with first floor commercial space. The project will replace three office buildings built in 1984. The new office building will offer more space than the combined footage of the existing structures.
Economic Development Director Rick Goff stated that the Gateway will generate between $574,000 and $737,000 in net revenue, depending upon whether the residential units are condos or apartments. He estimated the value of the developer’s voluntary concessions to the City at $3.4 million.
Mr. Snyder and Ms. Gardner expressed some concern over the possibility that the provision for first floor commercial space in the office building might deter tenants who would prefer to occupy the entire structure. Ms. Gardner saw a single tenant as being a greater benefit for the community and noted that commercial space would still be available in the residential structure. Mr. Snyder stated that if a prospective tenant does not want retail space in the building the issue should be brought to the Council for review and reconsideration.
Not all of the project’s issues have been resolved, but yesterday’s approvals are the surest sign that the Gateway, under development since 2005, eventually will become a reality. No major mixed-use (residential/commercial) project has been underway in the City since the completion of Pearson Square in 2008.
City Manager’s Report – Mr. Shields urged residents to attend one of the two upcoming town hall meetings on the budget. They will be held in the Community Center at 10 am on Saturday and at 7:30 pm next Monday.
The city manager said that staff was working with Arlington County officials to sort out inter-jurisdictional agreements over detention costs. The county recently advised Falls Church that it had underbilled more than $2 million in charges. Mr. Shields said that the City wants to both meet its obligations and to assure that there was agreeability and predictability between the two parties on procedures.
This led to some general discussion about the City’s various core service agreements with Arlington and Fairfax, several of which are 30 years old. A report on the status of the agreements and their impact on budgets will be developed by staff and the Council’s government operations committee by the end of February. Mayor Nader Baroukh suggested that something be in place to provide for an annual review of the agreements.
During the Council comments segment Ms. Gardner asked if the City had budgeted for a normal level of snow removal or had increased the amount, given last winter’s record snowfall. Mr. Shields advised that the allocation was for a normal year, but that crews would be out treating the streets even for minor snowfalls.
The city manager also called for residents to submit recommendations for employee of the year.
Appointments – Darcy Williamson was reappointed to the Board of Zoning Appeals. His term will extend through 2014. Jan Hertzsch was appointed to an unexpired term on the Towing Advisory Board. He will serve until November 30, 2013.
Closed Session – The public meeting concluded shortly before 10:30 pm. The Council then discussed three issues behind closed doors: a property question, the latest round of litigation regarding the water system, and the status of the detention center agreement with Arlington County.
By George Bromley
January 25, 2011