City Looking for ‘New Normal’ on Budget

By GEORGE BROMLEY
Falls Church Times Staff

February 2, 2011

City Manager Wyatt Shields advised residents at Monday evening’s town hall meeting that the days of 4.5% revenue growth are over and that Falls Church now is trying to define the “new normal” in the course of developing the FY 2012 budget.  That may be a difficult task, as the City faces a projected budget gap of nearly $2.3 million between anticipated expenses and revenues.

As over 60% of the City’s revenue is derived from property taxes, the tax rate may rise from the current $1.24 in order to balance the budget.  However, many of the attendees at the meeting expressed a willingness to pay higher taxes to sustain City services, for which they had unanimously high praise.

Education costs are the largest single budget item at 43%.  Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin has recommended a transfer request of $27.4 million, reflecting a very slight decrease over the previous year, but she cautioned Monday that unrest in Egypt may result in more students in City schools as State Department families temporarily relocate from overseas to Oakwood Apartments or Pearson Square.  Currently she projects an enrollment of 2,133 for the next school year, an increase of 3.8%.  The City’s cost per pupil is $12,862, a substantial decline from four years ago, when the cost was $15,004.

Public safety costs are next highest at 11%.  In response to a resident’s question, Mr. Shields stated that the unpaid detention center expenses due Arlington County have  been included in the FY 2012 budget.  These costs have been estimated at over $2.2 million, covering charges incurred during FY 2008-10.

The city manager also was questioned regarding the claims recently filed against the City’s water system by Fairfax County residents.  Mr. Shields described the actions as  “a whole new area of law for which there is no precedent.”  “The matter is under review and we are working with the plaintiffs’ lawyers who have brought the claims forward,” he said.  Concerning the now resolved litigation with Fairfax Water, Mr. Shields advised that the City is in compliance with Judge Ney’s order that it can no longer take a return on equity from the water fund.  He said the impact of this ruling was factored into the FY 2011 budget.

Both Mr. Shields and Dr. Berlin acknowledged that the recent budget constraints have had an impact on the workforce.  The city manager stated that there are 12% fewer employees than there were 18 months ago, resulting in greater workloads for those who remain.  He said that a continuation of the two year wage freeze is under consideration and that managers have been instructed to “work through 10% reductions on a programmatic level.”   “Our whole organization is being transformed through this recession,” he said.  “It’s a strain, but employees are very motivated.”

Dr. Berlin said that many school employees, who also have had wages frozen, are taking second jobs.  Some employees also have had days reduced, resulting in reductions in take home pay.  She maintained there has been no impact on the quality of classroom instruction but that there has been an decline in morale.  The superintendent noted that other local jurisdictions are proposing 1% to 3% raises.  “I am always concerned about people leaving,” she said. “But people have come to Falls Church to teach due to the smaller class sizes, for the community, and knowing, when they’re hired, where their classroom will be.”

In his concluding remarks, Mayor Nader Baroukh identified three interlinked factors as driving the budget process for the next fiscal year and beyond: managing economic development, specifically sector planning ,which he recommended begin sooner than later; determining the shape of the “new normal” for Falls Church’s operations, both at city hall and in the schools; and finding the proper balance between fund balance maintenance and the debt service necessary for capital improvements projects.

Noting that there would be considerable discussion about tax rates in the coming weeks, the mayor also called on residents to ask themselves whether they would be willing to pay for the same services if they were just coming into the community, as compared to rates established in the neighboring jurisdictions.

Citizens’ Comments Encouraged

The city manager and the mayor encouraged residents to provide feedback on services, both those which they believe must be maintained and those which might be reduced or eliminated.  Videos of both meetings are available at the City’s website under “City Webcasts.” A sample response form and a full slide presentation also are available as part of the meetings’ agendas.

Budget Calendar – City and Schools

2/08 – Public Hearing (School Board)
2/12 – School Board work session
2/15  –  School Board presents budget request
2/23 – Planning Commission’s recommendations on Capital Improvements Program
3/14 – City Manager’s recommendations to City Council
3/19 – Saturday Town Hall meeting
3/28 – Public Hearing (Council)
4/11 – Public Hearing (Council)
4/16 – Saturday Town Hall meeting
4/25 – Public Hearing (Council)
4/25 – City Council adopts FY 2012 budget
7/01 – FY 2012 Begins

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February 2, 2011 

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56 Responses to “City Looking for ‘New Normal’ on Budget”

  1. Mike Smith, Falls Church on February 3rd, 2011 10:42 am

    George:

    Good write-up on the meeting. However, yet again I find myself questioning the statement that we spend $12,862 per student. That ignores State and Federal money and any fees collected, all of which is on top of the $27.4 million. It also ignores the debt service paid for school construction which comes out of the general fund. I think you will find we are north of $18,000 per student.

  2. TFC on February 3rd, 2011 1:07 pm

    Someone correct me if I am wrong: I *think* Mr. Shields said at the Sat TH meeting that the Arl Detention billing was on the verge of settlement for something less than the 2.2M originally referenced??

  3. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on February 3rd, 2011 1:19 pm

    Mike, I’ve also found these numbers confusing. I think the number that would be most useful for us to know is how much of our local taxes are spent per student (at least when we’re talking about budget stuff). It seems like that number would come from the transfer to the schools plus whatever we spend on debt service for the school facilities (is that a number that’s easy to determine)?

    It’s nice to know how much we got from state and federal sources but I’m not sure how it ties into the City budget discussion.

    Here’s another thought, if we get 50 more kids in the schools from Egypt this month it will drive down our per student costs!

  4. Mike Smith, Falls Church on February 3rd, 2011 1:46 pm

    Andy:

    I agree, for purposes for figuring out the local tax burden, the local funds going to education is germain. Getting the amount of debt service for schools used to be easy, the annual retreat documents used to disclose that. Not this year, for some reason. Also the fiscal year 2010 financial report is not out yet, either. I seem to recall that about 2/3 of the debt service was for schools, or about $3 million. That works out to about $1,400 per student. If anyone has up-to-date figures, I’m all ears.

  5. Jeff Peterson, Falls Church on February 3rd, 2011 9:04 pm

    For a good source of info on area school costs, check out http://www.fcps.edu/fs/budget/wabe/2010.pdf

  6. George Bromley on February 3rd, 2011 9:58 pm

    According to documents on the School Board’s website, the superintendent is proposing a total budget of $35,091,800. Based on 2,133 students (projected for 2011-12), the cost per pupil is $16,452. In addition to the $27.4 million transfer request, the anticipated revenue includes state funds ($2.9 million), sales tax ($2.1 million), federal funds ($732k), other sources ($794k), plus a beginning balance of $1.1 million. Debt service is not shown. If the $1,400 estimate is accurate, the cost per pupil would be $17,852.

  7. Mike Smith, Falls Church on February 4th, 2011 3:35 pm

    Mr. Peterson:

    Thanks for the link. This document should be required reading for everyone on all sides of the debate. Two things I noted right away, the cost per pupil is all-in, as it included capital costs. Second, everyone should read page 32 for the salary information.

  8. TFC on February 4th, 2011 5:09 pm

    The link was great. The salary graph is probably simplified but, looks to me like we are in the upper area. Not the top but near the top. Why the agita and wringing of hands about our teachers jumping to another jurisdiction? Maybe I am missing something?

  9. Richard Sommerfeld on February 4th, 2011 7:45 pm

    Here is the updated WABE for 2011 http://www.fcps.edu/fs/budget/wabe/2011.pdf

    Our cost per pupil is $16,729 (slide 30). Even the superintendent acknowledged in her presentation that the figures, as presented, were not all inclusive. You will also note that the figures in the 2 town hall meetings differed from both the WABE and the State Department of Education. Those numbers agree with one another. I believe that George Bromley’s calculation including debt service is accurate.

    Look at slide 25 which will show you that 79% of the budget for the FCCPS comes from local funding the majority of which is real estate taxes. On slide 26 you will see that the schools take 48.9% of the budget before inclusion of debt service. Slide 30 shows that the regional trend is a reduction in cost per pupil. FCCPS matches the norm. Slide 31 indicates that we have reduced the cost per pupil fy 8.6%, while Fairfax has decreased its per pupil cost by 1.9%. Having said that, Fairfax’s economies of scale mean that its operating costs are 75.3% of Falls Church.

    While a FCCPS teacher earns on average 12.9% less than Arlington, we pay 2.8% more than Fairfax, which is nationally ranked (slide 37). Neither FCCPS nor Arlington are ranked in the top 10 school districts in the country. Having noted this, please see slide 41 with the “all-in cost” per teacher which indicates that FCCPS pays only 1.7% less than nationally ranked Fairfax County and 1.3% less than Arlington County. Note that Fairfax teachers earn more (all in) than Arlington.

    Interestingly, we have the highest paid school bus drivers in the entire metro area (slide 38).

  10. Cecily Shea on February 4th, 2011 8:14 pm

    Just curious. Is there a WABE version for city/county governments?

  11. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on February 4th, 2011 9:18 pm

    I will say our bus drivers are worth it – they’re great! Okay, I’ve only met a couple of them but they were very nice and they seem to do a good job.

    I noticed that we have the cheapest School Board – by a landslide!

  12. Suzanne Updike on February 5th, 2011 1:04 pm

    Regarding teacher salaries — I believe that it is important that we continue to pay at least as much as Fairfax County because they are so large and hire so many teachers.

    IF Fairfax County is able to provide their teachers with a 2% COLA this year (and we do not), we will begin to slip — our pay for teachers with masters degrees will still be competitive, but our pay for those with “only” a bachelors will fall behind.

    Also, interesting to note that our salary scales were designed to reward master degrees/continuing education. We cap the salary scale (at step 12) for teachers with BAs, so that a teacher with a BA and many years of experience who earns the minimum college credits required for recertification (3 college credits every 5 years) is paid less than he/she would receive in neighboring districts. Teachers with BAs need to earn 18 college credits while working full time in order to keep climbing the salary scales in FCC. Once they reach the BA+18 pay scale, they hit another cap at step 17, perhaps to push them on to get that MA…..

    Of course, since we haven’t been able to provide step increases, no one has been climbing those scales…..

  13. Suzanne Updike on February 5th, 2011 3:06 pm

    P.S. I just learned that 80% of our teachers have master’s degrees.

  14. Richard Sommerfeld on February 5th, 2011 4:40 pm

    Cecily, to the best of my knowledge there is no central database for city/county general government data like that found in the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) website. That website is hosted for Fairfax County Schools.

    On the LRFPWG, we pulled data from surrounding jurisdictions. It is a very time consuming and laborious process.

    Andy, not only do we have the cheapest school board, but we also have the cheapest city/town council in the area as well. What this shows is dedication of residents to serving the community. That’s a good thing.

  15. Cecily Shea on February 5th, 2011 5:59 pm

    Suzanne
    “…perhaps to push them on to get that M.A. . . .”

    Yes. That is the reason.

    Superintendent Jack Dale has proposed a Step AND 2% COLA for Fairfax County.

  16. Bill Royce on February 6th, 2011 1:31 am

    Cecily — the following introduction is from the WABE web site:

    “The Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE), previously known as the Metropolitan Area Boards of Education, was first established in 1971 as a means for area school divisions to share information, study common problems, and enhance cooperation among educational organizations. Each year, the group surveys its members to publish the annual WABE Guide. This guide enables local school systems to learn about each other by reporting comparable information in a standardized format. In addition, the WABE Guide is meant to be used by citizens as a source for consistent, reliable educational data.”

    I too found many inconsistencies when trying to cross-walk data between FCCPS briefs and state data stores, etc. I concluded that the contours of various reporting requirements and messaging goals cause the variations. WABE tries to get to apples to apples comparisons within the metro region.

    What is really interesting is to look at spending trends over the past several years.

    I’m glad others have found the WABE guide. One of the things I was surprised to learn is that school employees receive a 35% plus-up on their salaries as pension benefits. In our school budget this allocation is marked as a “required” expenditure and never mentioned again by anyone affiliated with the schools.

    Regardless of whether it is a contractual requirement or if it springs from a legislative requirement, it is a significant portion of school employee compensation that should not be overlooked. (After I saw these numbers I quit feeling guilty because teachers are grossly underpaid.)

    As far as the reasons for the annual fussing about school employee salaries goes, check out the National Education Association’s web page titled: “Field-Tested Salary Campaign Tactics” — http://www.nea.org/home/ns/16253.htm, specifically numbers 1, 9 and a little 10. Now go back and read the articles and letters to the various editors and commentaries about neighboring counties paying more and teachers threatening to go elsewhere, and tears being shed and morale being low, and having each other’s back (whatever that means.)

    At the same time that folks are trying to scare/shame us into salary increases the VEA is squeezing the state house “VEA Will Fight for 3-Percent Pay Increase” — http://www.veanea.org/top-stories/press-conf-2010-12-08.html

    Having said all that, I know firsthand that we have some outstanding teachers and administrators. We also have some that should “pursue other interests.”

    Not sure why I have to pay for the later, when all I want is the former.

    Someone above commented about 80% of Falls Church City teachers having Masters Degrees – here is an interesting article from the Huffington Post on this very topic. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/20/teachers-bonuses-masters-degrees-_n_786449.html

    I’m a Chris Christy fan so when I saw this on Huffington Post it got my attention.

    (I wonder what Dr. Berlin, EdLD would say about these studies and these discredited compensation practices.)

    If we need to spend more on new hires to be competitive so be it (you need to show me data; a lame threat is not sufficient), but I’d sure like to know why we perpetuate a discredited practice without an open dialogue from the leaders. They might be too busy scratching each other’s back, I suppose.

  17. Cecily Shea on February 6th, 2011 8:18 am

    Bill – I know what WABE is.

    I was wondering if there was a WABElike version for city/county governments. Richard says there isn’t.

  18. Bill Royce on February 6th, 2011 9:15 am

    I misunderstood your question. I’ll poke around and see what I can find.

  19. John Edgar, Fairfax on February 6th, 2011 10:10 am

    The Washington Examiner reports here about Falls Church’s failure to submit its audited financial statement on time. Good grief, what’s taking so long? http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/virginia/2011/02/state-falls-church-dragging-feet-financial-disclosures

  20. Suzanne Updike on February 6th, 2011 12:54 pm

    Regarding the need to pay enough to be competitive — Fairfax County has about 14,000 teachers and the City has about 170. Think about how many hires they must make each year. That’s tough competition, should our salaries drop below theirs…

  21. Alison Kutchma on February 6th, 2011 12:56 pm

    Hey Bill: A comment about your remark that our teachers get a 35% bump to their salaries in benefits — it’s been a long time since I worked in corporate America — how does it compare — for example to my former employer? Do you happen to know? I think that would be an interesting thing to know.

  22. Richard Sommerfeld on February 6th, 2011 1:23 pm

    In the beginning of November it was known that the City would not meet the 11/30 filing deadline with the Auditor of Public Accounts. Mr. La Condré did not arrive in his position until December, so you can’t blame him.

    Failure to comply with the timely filing of our accounts rests with the City Manager who forced out the former CFO just before the audit commenced and while we were having pressing budgetary issues. The Accounting and Finance Department is seriously understaffed and was understaffed prior to the departure of the former CFO.

    Under FASB 5, the City had a known legal liability that, while not definitively quantified, is certainly able to be estimated and is subject to an explanatory footnote inside the accounts. The class action suits materialized in December, so you can’t use that as an excuse.

    The Retirement Board surfaced the pension fund deficits in early September (a material subsequent event subject to comment by the independent auditor). At that time, the pension fund deficit was estimated at just over $15M. It was subsequently adjusted by the Retirement Board to about $20M following a series of actuarial calculations and revisiting the underlying assumptions. The liability is a bit of a moving target, but nevertheless roughly quantifiable, as the citizen volunteers of the Retirement Board have proven. Then the auditor found an estimated $4M of unaccrued pension liabilities inside the FCCPS which is a liability that will inevitably be borne by the City. The $2M bill from Arlington for our public safety chargebacks did not materialized until December, but apparently nobody from our accounting and finance department was auditing the Sheriff’s Department usage of Arlington’s jail facilities. It also shows that the Sheriff’s Department was not tracking its costs either, so there is shared responsibility on that issue. In the accounting world, these are material breaches of internal financial controls. I suspect that Mr. La Condre is dutifully doing his best at the moment to fend off a qualified audit, which incidentally did not occur on his watch and you can’t blame it on the former CFO either.

    Could it be that the independent auditor has some issues with our internal financial controls? Perhaps Brown Edwards & Co. may be negotiating its audit opinion letter with the City. If it is a qualified opinion, there will be ramifications.

    After asking “why have the accounts not been filed in compliance with state law?” the next question is “what is the City Council doing about it so as to get into compliance ASAP?” I guess one could also ask “why is it taking the City Council so long to fix it?”

  23. TFC on February 6th, 2011 3:34 pm

    I keep thinking about staff cuts that have happened over the last several years. My general sense is folks try to “do more with less” and keep up productivity after cuts. However, at some point folks do less with less, like trying to keep soldiers at alert for extended periods of time. I wonder if the Arlington bill for jail services is an example of the kind of thing that happens when staff can no longer continue doing more with less.

  24. Charlie Anderson, City of Falls Church on February 6th, 2011 3:41 pm

    Mr. Sommerfeld’s question is a good one – what is being done to remedy this situation?

    His allegation that the City Manager forced out his previous CFO is interesting. Was the City’s budgetary mess just Mr. Touhy’s fault? What culpability does Mr. Shields have in all of the issues and lack of internal controls here? The $2 million mistakes are starting to add up……

  25. Bill Royce on February 6th, 2011 3:44 pm

    Alison —

    Benefits above and beyond salary are still 13% of salary out there. Also, I know from interviews and conversations over the years that the range for most companies in the industry is between 11 and 15% of salary, on top of salary.

    My point in all this is that there are several different compensation models in use. From what I gather, school employees have negotiated a deal that gives them nearly a third of their total compensation after they retire. In the private sector we might get more up front but are on our own for retirement.

    I have no particular comment on the wisdom or fairness of one approach over the other. I do, however, find it troubling that actual compensation figures are declared “required” and then buried within the mind-numbing details of the budget, while the salary portion is displayed on the FCCPS web page as though that was it. (Initially, I was very concerned that in general teachers weren’t paid a living wage. I then dug around and figured out what the real deal is. Why should I have to dig for this?

    A final point on all of this, for every buck in salary increase provided, an addition $0.35 is required to fill pension funds.

    WRT to components of our city government failing to track/audity expenses properly, the question that occurs to me is “what in the world were they doing instead of performing mission critical functions like keeping track of expenses and/or auditing the same?

    I can’t count the number of times that my employers, over past 30 + years, have imposed budget cut-backs, or down-sized or redirected resources, etc. (This is how companies remain competitive by staying focused on value-added work and by so doing are able to stay in business.)

    The whole point of the drill is to force winnowing. Sounds like the folks doing the winnowing were keeping the chaff and throwing out the grain. This, my friends, is a leadership problem.

  26. TFC on February 6th, 2011 4:43 pm

    Bill, good point but what if this is the new normal?
    In my hubby’s workplace (retail industry) there have been so many staff cuts or replacement of seasoned employees with newbies, that there is actually more workload than staff is able to do. Tough environment.

  27. Bill Royce on February 6th, 2011 7:22 pm

    I work at a 45,000 employee consulting firm that continues to shed employees at the rate of a hundred or so every couple of weeks. My work week is up to between 65 and 70 hours a week (just to stay even) and I don’t see an end to that in sight.

    Here’s what I know for certain; long ago I traveled the world as a mechanic and scuba diver on board a submarine. I know first hand that the quality of my life is so much better than most in the world have even dreamed of – even at this new, hopefully temporary, normal.

  28. Cecily Shea on February 6th, 2011 10:03 pm

    FCT

    I am curious…
    How did Bill’s comment from
    Bill Royce on February 6th, 2011 1:31 am
    Go from 2 paragraphs to 11.

    This is an interesting was to keep a blog.

    It is hard to respond to people when comments to which you have responded have expanded.

  29. Bill Royce on February 7th, 2011 8:07 am

    These had been two separate posts. The first one I put up began with the statement —

    “I’m glad others have found the WABE guide. One of the things I was surprised to learn is that school employees receive a 35% plus-up on their salaries as pension benefits. In our school budget this allocation is marked as a “required” expenditure and never mentioned again by anyone affiliated with the schools.”

    And ended with:

    “If we need to spend more on new hires to be competitive so be it (you need to show me data; a lame threat is not sufficient), but I’d sure like to know why we perpetuate a discredited practice without an open dialogue from the leaders. They might be too busy scratching each other’s back, I suppose.”

    The second, submitted a few minutes after the first, started with the statement:

    “Cecily — the following introduction is from the WABE web site”

    And ended with:

    “What is really interesting is to look at spending trends over the past several years.”

    For some reason the two were concatenated.

  30. Mike Smith, Falls Church on February 7th, 2011 8:37 am

    All:

    This is a great discussion thread. I appreciate everyone who has brought facts to the discussion; I have learned a lot. Unfortunately, that knowledge leads me to the conclusion that pretty much nobody is in charge here at the Little City. The City Manager takes no responsibility for the mess and the Council is focused on trivia and infighting (and we don’t even know yet when the next election is!)

    So, please soldier on my friends.

  31. Alison Kutchma on February 7th, 2011 10:18 am

    Bill — thanks for all the great information and explanations. Very helpful stuff. When I worked for pay (where you work now), I remember annually getting my statement of compensation. The salary I received was the first number but all the other benefits (health care etc.) was then added and so the final “compensation” number was last.

    I do feel it is very misleading to us citizens to separate these numbers and list the teachers’ and staff salary separate from their total compensation package because it just does not tell the whole story of the cost burden of carrying these employees. Why is the whole story not presented? Buried, as I think you say? Because as you say, we do have some outstanding teachers but we do have some that should pursue other interests and I think if we could all see what these individuals are “costing” us in real and accurate dollars we might encourage them to do so. I know in the real world if you are not carrying your weight at a minimum and doing something above and beyond (60 hours for the 40 for which you are paid,) then you are looking for work.

  32. Pat Riccards on February 7th, 2011 10:23 am

    Bill — You are absolutely right about the importance of transparency in the budgeting process. If you look at the FCCPS website, you will find a line-by-line accounting of the Superintendent’s proposed budget. http://www.fccps.org/board/budget/fy12/SuperProposedBudget_FY12_just.pdf

    Yes, the document is quite long, but it should be easy to follow. The budget is broken down by each school. In the Employee Benefits section of the sub-budgets (for each of the four schools and then central office) you will see, down to the dollar, the budgeted retirement costs. Most of FCCPS employees are covered under the Virginia Retirement System (VSRS Benefits in the budget). A small portion of FCCPS staff are covered under the City’s system (City Retirement Benefits in the budget).

    VRS contribution rates are set by the Commonwealth of Virginia. We have no say in the matter. This year, the state is raising our obligation by 22 percent.

    For the record, we project that 20 percent of the total FCCPS budget will be for benefits. That includes retirement benefits, health insurance, disability, worker’s compensation, and FICA benefits. Since FY2008, the schools’ spending on benefits have declined each and every year, dropping nearly 10 percent over the three-year period.

  33. Lou Mauro on February 7th, 2011 5:22 pm

    Mike Smith,

    I will play Andy here, i.e, vague broadsides like “pretty much nobody is in charge here at the….. City” and “the City Manager takes no responsibility for the mess” are not terribly helpful. Perhaps you might at least explain what you mean by the City “Council is focused on trivia and infighting”?

    And FYI, the next Council and School Board elections will be in May 2012 even if the date is changed by referendum in November 2011.

    As to the merits of the school budget argument, there has indeed been a lot of helpful information and discussion concerning salaries and benefits, which in fact do constitute a large majority of the costs. I wonder, though, what the situation looks like when viewed on a programmatic basis. Are there no programs or departments where additional savings can be realized by procedural or substantive modifications?

  34. Bill Royce on February 7th, 2011 7:18 pm

    Pat — Thank you very much. The presentation of data at the link you provided is most helpful. My reference to “mind numbing detail” is wrt prior year’s data presentation. Your progress in making this accessible to all is laudable.

    The other part of the point I raised is that insufficient context is provided when presenting the teacher salary information at this link –http://www.fccps.org/about/budget.htm

    In general, the term salary is ambiguous in that it can mean either the total value of an employee’s compensation or it can mean the portion of an employee’s compensation paid on a regular basis, exclusive of pension, heath care, 401 k matching, etc. Thus, salary numbers presented without a definitional statement have little meaning and can be misleading.

    The first time I saw the starting and average salary numbers on the FCCPS web site I was appalled. Based on the government standard (BLS.gov) of 2080 hours in a work year, it appeared that starting level teachers earned around $21 per hour while the average salary was a little more than $30 per hour. Those numbers seemed woefully inadequate (regardless of what neighboring school districts pay) for school teachers.

    It wasn’t until I had visited the repository of WABE Guides that I understood the numbers I had seen on the FCCPS web page were only 2/3’s of the story.

    Further, I learned there that a teacher’s work year is less than 3/4’s the length of my work year. It was only then that I realized that no one was being asked to starve to death in order to teach my kids
    .
    So, to clear up my confusion (maybe I’m the opnly one) here is what this page of the schools web site should show as both entry level and average salary figures –
    – annual salary,
    — $$ value of benefits package (on an annual basis)
    — total compensation (= sum of salary and benefits from above)

    There should also be a clear indicator that the compensation is based on a 200 day-long work-year or 1500 hours per year.

    Now, when I hear that some teachers are taking on part-time jobs to stay afloat, I remind myself that they chose to work in a field in which 1/3 of their compensation is deferred until retirement. Some someday they will walk away and hopefully enjoy a comfortable retirement life.

    As for me, and most of us in the private sector, we will be working two jobs during retirement just to stay afloat !

  35. Karen Hoofnagle Falls Church City on February 8th, 2011 10:49 am

    There is a number I want very badly which I know is somewhat difficult to produce. I hope someone here could help make a stab at it. If we were to fund the schools at their requested levels, assuming we get the Qualified School Construction Bond we applied for and left all other numbers in City Government largely untouched, just for the sake of argument, what would happen to the property tax rate? (You can also assume that the water bills will go way up as we pass through our Chesapeake Bay costs as reported in the FCNP if that helps.)

    Yes, I know that’s never going to happen, but in the midst of the discussion of budget Armageddon, I’m having trouble wrapping my arms around the question of what the “worst case” really is. Going from 1.24 per 100 to 1.30? 1.50? 2.00? 10..00? I need someone to quantify for me the whole trouble in numbers I can understand BEFORE talking about how much ballast to toss out so that we don’t have to pay it.

    That said, a proper analysis of this question might best be presented as an article explaining the various elements… maybe someone on the Times staff will take it on?

  36. Pat Riccards on February 8th, 2011 11:04 am

    Karen, your question on QSCB is a good one, and can actually be easily produced. As you know, in November, Falls Church applied for a Qualified School Construction Bond, which would essentially provide the city a zero-interest bond to help us address our immediate facility needs at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. With TJ scheduled to hit capacity next year, QSCB would allow us to add 12 classrooms to TJ, while right-sizing the cafeteria and improving Internet access for all students.

    In securing the unanimous support for our QSCB application from City Council, the Planning Commission, and the Long-Range Financial Planning Work Group, the School Board pledged that the total cost of servicing the QSCB bond would be assumed by the schools for the first three years. There will be NO requested increase in the city transfer to cover the QSCB bond in the next three years. This evening, the Board is reviewing policy language ensuring that FCCPS fund balance would be used to cover the cost of all principal and interest payments related to QSCB through June 2014.

    We are still hopeful that the Governor will approve our application, and we can begin to break ground on our much-needed expansion at TJ. It is incredibly difficult to deal with growing school needs, particularly as our buildings prepare to reach or exceed capacity, and our City’s difficult budget realities. Tonight’s initial School Board action is intended to do exactly what you seem to hope for — ensure that this needed construction does not impact the property tax rate for the next three years.

  37. Karen Hoofnagle Falls Church City on February 8th, 2011 11:14 am

    Pat,

    Glad to hear you still think it may be approved, but my question actually *wasnt* about the QSCB. Or even about the details of the school budget at all. (Please note, that I support you in getting everything you’ve asked for.)

    My real question was “if we fund *everything* we’ve been told we need what happens to the tax rate?”. It’s at 1.24 per 100 today. My question is what would we have to come up with? Honestly I don’t believe tonight’s meeting is likely to produce such a number. We’re so busy (understandably) talking about what we can live without because it might be expensive that the total bill isn’t being presented.

  38. Bill Royce on February 8th, 2011 12:41 pm

    Pat — can you get the correct salary / benefits data on the FCCPS web site or should I?

  39. Suzanne Updike on February 8th, 2011 12:52 pm

    Karen, the value of a penny of the property tax rate changes depending on the assessments; last year I think a penny was worth about 300K.

    The school’s proposed budget increase over last year’s budget is about 300k, although they are actually asking for slightly less money in the city transfer than last year. (Not sure how that works…)

    Of course, the trouble is that the city overall has big shortfall — this article says it’s a 2.3 M projected gap (that’s a good 7 or 8 cents?) This article also say that includes both the water and Arlington jail costs….

    There is surely someone out there who knows more about this than me…. but maybe that gives you some sense of the magnitude of the thing (hope I’m not too far off)

  40. Pat Riccards on February 8th, 2011 1:16 pm

    The correct salary/benefits data are up on the FCCPS website, and are reflected in all of the budget documents that are posted on the site. As I noted previously, you can see it broken down by school at http://www.fccps.org/board/budget/fy12/SuperProposedBudget_FY12_full.pdf.

    The idea of including salary schedules on the FCCPS website is an interesting one, and I will raise it.

    It is unfair to all educators to say that their compensation is based on a 200-day calendar or 1,500 hours. Setting aside the number of employees that are both 11-month or 12-month staff of FCCPS, to claim an educator in our community works just 1,500 hours a year simply is not true. When one counts all of the holidays and weekends sacrificed, evenings worked, and time put in during the summer, the average teacher could work well over 2,000 hours a year. Those are the sorts of numbers even the top law firms would love to see from all their employees. We have to remember an educator’s work schedule is not simply the times that class is in session, particularly here in Falls Church.

    Yes, part of a teacher’s compensation package is a pension. But that is no different than a police officer, firefighter, or federal government worker. In return, they do not get pay increases promised when they were hired (as part of the salary scale you refer), nor do they get 401ks or performance bonuses or profit sharing or anything similar to what the private sector receives (at least in good times).

  41. Pat Riccards on February 8th, 2011 1:48 pm

    Bill — The salary scales are up on the FCCPS website, in the employment section. You can find the scales for all classifications of FCCPS employees at: http://www.fccps.org/hr/careercenter/11/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=61&Itemid=91

  42. Bill Royce on February 8th, 2011 6:06 pm

    Pat — I saw your response and was a bit surprised at your defensive tone and your misrepresentation of what I had written. My surprise turned to amusement when I followed the link you provided in your post from February 8th, 2011 1:48 pm — http://www.fccps.org/hr/careercenter/11/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=61&Itemid=91 (Your link to the FCCPS employment site so that I could find teachers salary schedules.)

    Despite the fact that I never asked about salary schedules, out of curiosity I hit the link to “Professional / Teacher Salary Scale” — http://www.fccps.org/hr/dl_scales/TeacherFY11.pdf — and a document popped open. The title of the document is:

    “FY11 Adopted Teacher’s Salary Schedule – 10 Months, 200-Day Contract with 191 Scheduled Work Days.”

    So within 30 minutes of implying that I am making stuff up and that I am “unfair” you demonstrated that my facts are in order (at least wrt to this one point.)

    So pls read my posts from “February 7th, 2011 7:18 pm” and the one prior to it from “February 6th, 2011 1:31 am”;

    then follow the link I provided — http://www.fccps.org/about/budget.htm and review the data posted there;

    go to the WABE guide (which purports to compile and display data collected from Wash-Metro school districts) and review the charts; and

    visit the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics web via the link I again provided above (BLS.gov).

    Now,

    — help me understand where my analysis went astray,

    — how it is that the data I used is factually incorrect, and,

    — most importantly what the linkage is between what I said and what you explicitly or implicitly claim that I said.

    When you are done pls post another response, give me a call to discuss, come by my house to talk or send me a letter.

    I can be taught, I will listen and I am not afraid to say I’m wrong or to apologize; how about you?

    Finally, I will ask the central office to get the correct salary / benefits data on the FCCPS web site.

  43. A defeated teacher on February 8th, 2011 7:08 pm

    Mr. Royce, Mr. Smith et al. As a teacher who has been following your comments on this thread and others, and as one who has taught YOUR children, I wanted to let you know that you can stop the bickering about our salaries, benefits, hours, etc. YOU WIN! If your intent was to demoralize us…YOU WIN! If your intent was to let us know just how little we really mean to this “little community”…YOU WIN! If your intent was to make me reconsider staying in a profession that I once loved…YOU WIN! Please, keep your 1% raise. I don’t want it. It simply costs too much. The little it would give me doesn’t even cover the money I spent out of pocket for materials and supplies (for your children) last year.. I’d rather you keep it so you can enjoy your retirement instead of having to work 2 jobs as you say you’ll have to do in order to survive. The way you’ve dissected our salaries is truly impressive. You’ve managed to completely miss the fact that there are PEOPLE behind those numbers – people like me who live in a 850 sq ft apartment, who owe 70K in student loans, and who can’t fund their retirement account because there’s no money left over at the end of the month (but that’s probably my fault too). So, thank you. Consider your work done. Move on to something else. I/we simply don’t have the time or will to fight the battle anymore. Congratulations.

  44. Charlie Anderson, City of Falls Church on February 8th, 2011 8:25 pm

    Defeated, it looks like you can’t stomach public debate. Too bad for someone so well educated. For what it is worth, I have not seen a single teacher weigh in here, so your fight never even started.

    I think everyone here is trying to learn the intricacies of the school budget and how our teachers and staff are paid. Without this knowledge, we are all just a bunch of lemming taxpayers. With the knowledge, informed citizens can make informed decisions.

  45. Bill Royce on February 8th, 2011 10:59 pm

    Dear Defeated: Don’t be. We are both victims of one of the most outdated and absurd compensation schemes imaginable. (We just happen to be on opposite sides of the transactions.) There is much I don’t know about the details of the system, but from what I have surmised:

    the “step” system means compensation increases as years of service increases;

    employees receive raises when they earn advanced degrees; and

    all FCCPS (~ 350) employees receive a COLA / step or nobody receives a COLA / step.

    Is this correct?

  46. vlfrance, City of Falls Church on February 9th, 2011 8:56 am

    Dear Defeated Teacher – there is bickering because people care. I care, however, our taxes in the City are the highest by far compared to our closest neighbors. We all want a good school system and a good balance of services and schools within our City to sustain a broad-based community. The argument and challenge is how to get there, and fairly.

  47. Mike Smith, Falls Church on February 9th, 2011 9:12 am

    Defeated:

    I am going back and forth trying to decide if your posting is a petty in-your-face screed or an honest cri de coer. I’ll go with the latter.

    I have never joined the crowd who consider teachers to be pampered whiners, rather my beef has been with unquestioning funding to a school system without any assurance that the money is efficiently delivered to the classroom. You complain, reasonably, that you spend your own money on supplies. So why is that so when the schools routinely end up with million dollar surplusses that they can’t or won’t explain? You say you can’t save for retirement yet the schools had a “special” retirement plan open to a few that results in a $4 million liability. You worry about people questioning the expenses of running the schools, but the schools will not even entertain the idea of creating administrative efficiencies by combining school and city functions.

    I’d love to be in a position to give unwavering support to our schools. But that will take positive action, not the circling of the wagons that has been the schools’ reaction thus far.

  48. Pat Riccards on February 9th, 2011 9:36 am

    Bill — I am always willing to admit when I am wrong. But I also believe that the words you use do a disservice to teachers and significantly underplay the hours they work and the time they put into their profession. I never said you made anything up. But you are incorrect by making the leap that a 10-month teacher works just 1,500 hours a year. Please find me one educator who works just 1,500 hours a year. Please find me one educator who works just 3/4 the time the average private sector employee does. Please find me anyone in the private sector in a professional position that works 8, 10, or 12 hour days in a job that doesn’t provide a single day of vacation time or the ability to take an hour for lunch.

    I will admit that I am sensitive to such charges. Growing up, I often heard how easy my mother (a high school English teacher) had it because she “got summers off” or because her day was over by 3 p.m. Unlike most other professions, an educator’s job is really only half over when the school bells rings in the afternoon. We expect teachers to put in the nights and weekends and holidays. We expect them to be at our constant call.

    I also find it troubling reading that teachers are simply deferring a third of their compensation because they have a pension. Do we say the same of our police force? Or firefighters? Of course not. You are correct, pensions are part of the benefits packages we provide our educators. They are part of a benefits package that communities like ours have provided teachers well before either of us was in the classroom. But those pensions are earned, and a pension coming due in 20 or 30 years is little help to pay rising rents, increased grocery bills, or skyrocketing utility costs today.

    While the WABE has its own drawbacks, it demonstrates two things regarding teacher salaries. One, our teachers are often more highly educated than neighboring jurisdictions. And two, our teachers — on the whole — bring more experience and time in the classroom than the average jurisdiction. Factor in other qualitative measures like the percentage of National Board Certified Teachers, and we currently have the type of educator pool our community should demand and other communities should be envious of.

    I guess I just don’t see how it is productive to spend so much time to try and make folks see that our educators’ salaries are better than we think they are. We are losing ground to our neighboring jurisdictions in terms of teacher pay, particularly this year as we see Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and others all proposing raises for their teachers. We need a long-term plan that shows our commitment to effective teaching in Falls Church and demonstrates how we, as a community, will support our teachers.

  49. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on February 9th, 2011 3:19 pm

    I haven’t followed all of this stuff super closely but Mike has mentioned the annual surpluses many times and I’m curious about them. If the schools start with $1M in the bank, set a budget (that factors in the $1M they have), and then end the year with $1M in the bank is that a surplus or just part of the plan? Does the budget, if followed exactly, have the schools end with $0?

    Either way, it’s very interesting to me that we’d be critical of the schools ending with a surplus. If anything it seems like we should be really excited by this and applaud the schools for coming in under budget. Now, maybe the concern is that the why and how of coming in under budget isn’t well explained?

    If the whole point is that the schools should ask for $1M less (or whatever) because we know they won’t need/use it then I’m sure the other position is – what if it turns out they do need it? Will they be able to get it later? Personally, I’d rather the schools set a budget each year that they work hard to come in under, and achieve that, than any other scenario.

    As for the idea of creating efficiencies by combining administrative functions – I think that’s a cool idea. It seems like someone in the know could come up with specifics or potential ideas without any help from the schools. It’s like the list of budget saving measures that people say sit in a desk drawer gather dust – let’s get the specifics of these ideas out in the open so we can all talk about them specifically.

  50. Mike Smith, Falls Church on February 9th, 2011 5:01 pm

    Andy:

    If you look at their budgets you see they start with an estimated surplus from the prior year and they say they are going to spend it. Yet at the end of the year, they don’t, in fact they usually add to the surplus. So every year they include expenses in the budget that never materialize. If this happened once in a while I wouldn’t be so irked, but it happens every year.

    As for someone in the know coming up with ideas for combining functions – this was presented to the School Board and Council in great detail several years ago and nothing happened.

  51. Bill Royce on February 9th, 2011 7:42 pm

    So Pat –

    Just to summarize and conclude this one, I took data available to the public on the FCCPS web site, multiplied the numbers together and stated the outcome.

    In presenting the outcome, I used contextual information entirely in accord with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the branch of the U.S. Department of Labor responsible for collecting and evaluating data on various jobs and careers.

    No trickery, no BS, just the facts.

    Based on this information, I asked a couple of questions.

    Your response has been most interesting, as you have –

    — managed to evade most (if not every) direct question I asked (as well as those questions asked by others);

    — repeatedly twisted my words to suit you agenda or to conform to your childhood memories (while you clearly attempted to defame my character, your attempt is so lame and transparent that it is silly and absurd);

    — shown an incredible lack of understanding of the work life in the private sector; and

    — called into question the validity of WABE data by stating “While WABE has its own drawbacks”, but then immediately you cite WABE data to support some new tangent you want to talk about, without ever once explaining the “drawbacks.”

    Enough said — go back to the school board, your leadership is needed there.

    BTW – For those interested, I FOIA’ed our city and school superintendent a month ago to obtain copies of any studies or reports on how administrative functions could be combined for the sake of efficiency. Their substantive response is comprised of the two documents that can be found at:

    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/19675441/SCHOOLS%20RESPONSE%20-%20Consolidation%20memo%203.doc and

    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/19675441/2004%20DistrictMgmt%20Council%20FC%20Report.pdf

    (Evidently, efficiency has been low on their list of priorities for a long time.)

  52. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on February 9th, 2011 8:30 pm

    I’d love to see those great details from several years ago. If we could see some concrete suggestions for consolidating admin functions or other obvious ways to reduce spending then we could start asking about those specific ideas. It seems like that would be a lot more productive than griping about them in a generic way.

  53. Bill Royce on February 9th, 2011 10:42 pm

    The substance of what I got is at the end of those two links. I haven’t looked at it for a couple of weeks but as I recall its all conceptual-level covering the typical admin functions you would expect to find in a school system or small city. The challenge is that the folks in charge of the institutions typically have little or no motivation to make any of these changes — obviously.

    Anyway take a look and I’d be happy to kick around some ideas / questions for follow-up. I tell you though, I truly believe the greatest opportunity in all of this is to figure out what teacher’s compensation should look like in Falls Church the 21st century. I don’t mean less $$ — ’cause you always have to pay what the market requires — I mean targeted to reward those whose contributions and behaviors move the district towards its goals.

  54. TFC on February 10th, 2011 8:17 am

    Mike: as I recall there were some small steps taken to consolidate functions last budget cycle. Communication Dept functions were slated for consolidation and IT functions were under discussion. I would like to see continued efforts to find opportunities for consolidation.

  55. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on February 10th, 2011 8:50 am

    Bill touches on something I’d be interested in, but I doubt would ever get much traction. I’ve never worked for the government and I’m an entrepreneur so I have a different view on how compensation works. The City is small enough that it seems like it could be feasible to come up with an approach to compensation (for teachers and all City employees) that wasn’t based so much on years of experience but instead was based on performance and results.

  56. Karen Hoofnagle Falls Church City on February 10th, 2011 9:05 am

    Suzanne – Thanks. That’s exactly what I was trying to understand. If you figure that we’re already 7 or 8 cents into the red, it makes the absolute size of the problem easier to understand.

    For a hypothetical 500,000 house, with a current tax load of 1.24 currrently paying 6200 in yearly taxes, moving to a rate of 1.31 increases the tax burden (assuming a flat assessment because I’m lazy) to 6600. That’s an increase of 33 a month. I won’t say I like taxes, but given the mess we’re in with the water system and the pension, if that’s the “New Normal”, I for one will accept it a heck of a lot more cheerfully than I’ll accept laying off teachers or cutting further into their take home pay.

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