OUTSIDE THE BOX: Fear and Loathing in the Little City

By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
May 12, 2013

If you turn on the news, you know will hear something sad. There are stories about fires, explosions, car accidents and shootings. You also may hear someone objecting to something.

Some of their complaints may be legitimate. We all know there are plenty of injustices out there. But the parade of people objecting to everything under the sun wears thin after a while. If you watch enough of the news, it seems like there’s always another grievance.

And so it is in Falls Church City. Yet it shouldn’t be.

The City is in an enviable position: it has homes that sell within days for high prices; a location at the crossroads of booming Northern Virginia; an economy prosperous from the federal government’s stabilizing influence and the explosive growth of the information technology industry.

But ever since moving here in 2008, I have heard people say they wanted to slam shut the city door to keep out that scourge of our society, families with children. The annual battles over the budget are acrimonious.

It’s okay for the debate over the budget to be passionate. Politics ain’t beanbag, goes a famous expression, and people who live near Washington take their politics with a heaping dose of extra serious.

It is to be expected that people defend their positions ardently, but somewhere, somehow, it feels like some have crossed a line somewhere. I was reminded of this anew during the battle over this year’s city budget.

I didn’t have any issue with the differing positions taken by members of the City Council. There was, you may recall, disagreement about how much of an increase the schools should get (once again, a luxury many cities do not have). The disagreement was well explained by City Councilor Johannah Barry in a Falls Church Times article in April.

Instead, what I am talking about is the tone, the language some residents are using during these debates. It is one thing to suggest the schools need to sacrifice. That is a legitimate position. It is quite another to assert that a “school lobby” is using “talking points” to effect a “money grab.”

Wow.

There’s no doubt Falls Church City spends a lot of money on its schools. So do Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax. The City has to spend more per capita in some cases because it lacks the economies of scale those larger jurisdictions enjoy.

But some of the anger about the school budget was based on a misunderstanding. While the Council voted to increase the city transfer 14 percent, that did not increase funding for school operations 14 percent.

In the 2012-2013 year, the schools spent $38,489,400 on operations. With the Council’s approval, they will spend $40,937,800, a 6.4 percent increase. Enrollment was up 6.9 percent over the last year. The figures come from Superintendent Toni Jones.

Funding for the city schools comes from a variety of sources: Mostly city funding, but also state and federal subsidies. State assistance increased 4.7 percent, but federal just 0.6 percent.

And here’s the kicker: The schools were using money from their fund balance the last several years, which helped keep the amount they needed from the City Council down. That changed with this year’s budget. The amount the school fund balance was being raided to fund operations fell 61 percent this year, from $3.28 million to $1.27 million, necessitating that the money be made up elsewhere.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the schools can’t tighten their collective belts. They can. The question is whether we, as city voters, want them to, which is ultimately a political question.

The city has small schools with small class sizes, which are considered a good thing. But it is a legitimate political position to say that smallness is a luxury we can’t afford, or, to be more precise, one could say we can afford it but that it would be better to have larger class sizes and a lower tax rate, or larger class sizes and more money to spend elsewhere.

That’s what politics is about. But people with that view need to make that case, and not just fire off language complaining about the schoolstalkingpointsmoneygrab. It’s unbecoming a community like ours, and the fear and loathing isn’t healthy — for those on either side.

One could also make the case that we can’t afford to be independent, and that we don’t need to be any more. The city desired its own independence and better quality schools at a time when Fairfax County was extremely rural.

Times have changed. Fairfax is now one of the wealthiest counties in the nation and has many excellent schools. Ditto for Arlington. If we just gave up independence, and became as one with one of our neighbors, perhaps we could have excellent schools and a lower tax rate.

That’s a political choice as well. But it’s one I doubt most City residents would make.

Outside the Box is an opinion column. Read it every Sunday in the Falls Church Times.

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May 12, 2013 

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35 Responses to “OUTSIDE THE BOX: Fear and Loathing in the Little City”

  1. Greg Rasnake on May 12th, 2013 6:05 am

    Very thoughtful piece. Thank you Stephen.

  2. Betsy Sherman, Falls Church on May 12th, 2013 8:38 am

    Mr. Siegel, I commend you for your insight. I have lived here since 1958, was an original member of CBC, managed several campaigns for them, was active in the schools and City affairs, have four adult accomplished children who benefited from the school system, and have watched closely every year during the budget process. AND FOR 55 YEARS THE PROCESS IS ALWAYS THE SAME. Even in the years before the School Board was elected, the Council and the School Board squared off and yelled at each other and the citizens yelled back. Nothing ever changes except the tax rate which keeps on climbing. There is no relief for Seniors on a fixed income with no children in the school system, as there is in many communities. But never mind – they will soon die or move into “the home” and someone with children will buy their house and the tax rate will go up the next year. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

  3. Peggy Monahan, Falls Church on May 12th, 2013 9:46 am

    The lack of civility is a huge cultural problem, and is bound to be reflected in local politics. If we started here, could it take root and thrive and ultimately influence the entire country? Will we ever know?

  4. Michael Ankuma on May 12th, 2013 10:00 am

    Very well informed and balanced piece. You are absolutely right about the current tone which is also a significant disincentive to potential candidates for office. Let’s hope our citizens seek out the facts and dial down the fear and loathing, going forward. Thank you, Stephen

  5. Michael Baker on May 12th, 2013 10:21 am

    One of the best columns about the dynamics of this past budget cycle. One point, you did miss the ideological tone this year had, with the inability of some on City Council being unable to even listen to plans that didn’t first meet there rigid requirements – that is an unwelcome addition to the other divides we have.
    But you do touch on the point that is paramount, if Falls Church doesn’t want to spend to maintain its schools, then way are we spending all the other funds to be an independent city?
    I’m sure Fairfax would welcome us back, it would help there bottom line, and if George Mason just becomes another Fairfax County High School – what, maybe 50 or 60 of its seniors won’t get into the college they want, our property taxes might come down.
    Again, thank you for a civil and thoughtful recap of this last Springs often acrimonious discussion on the future of our schools.

  6. Brian Williams (Falls Church City) on May 12th, 2013 4:48 pm

    Thanks for this, Stephen.

    Through the most recent debates I shared similar comments about the negative, accusatory tone we saw in public and I heard firsthand from both SB and CC members. It was not productive. I thought the underlying debate we went through these past several months was quite healthy, but that poisonous tone was not healthy or necessary.

    A key issue I have with the negativity is that it could discourage participation from otherwise able, talented members of our community. I have to think there are people here who would consider running for SB or CC but have decided against it given how unpleasant the debate has been. That’s a big problem. We need to do more to encourage our residents to get involved, and it can’t be limited to those with particularly thick skin.

    I would hope that the tone will shift more positive in the coming years. We have some big challenges to overcome and, as you say, we need to figure out what kind of city we want to be. It’ll take a lot of collaboration to find the best path forward.

  7. grateful2binfc on May 12th, 2013 8:33 pm

    Brilliant piece followed by great comments/insights. I’m always learning something! Thank you, Stephen Siegel. “The Little City” is lucky to have you at the FCT.

  8. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on May 13th, 2013 12:26 pm

    Betsy’s comment inspired me to go back and look at the tax rate since 1958. It was interesting to see that 20 times the tax rate has gone up, 14 times it has gone down, and 20 times it has stayed the same. I’m not sure what, if anything, that means. Also, it seems like there must have been a fundamental shift in things from 1977 (2.85) to 1978 (1.15).

    I’ve been in the City only since 2008 and while the yearly budget battle has generally been tough this year did seem a bit worse than some of the previous years.

    As Betsy mentioned, I think we should look at tax relief programs that might help some of our long-term residents stay in the City for as long as they want. I’m not sure what kinds of programs there are for that – but I bet there are things we could try.

  9. John E. Leimone, Falls Church, VA. on May 13th, 2013 12:49 pm

    I continue to be amazed about refusal of those defending the school budget to discuss whether or not other needs of Falls Church City are being starved by the pressures being put on budgetary resources by the school system, which directly serves only about one quarter of the households (the most significant taxpayer unit) of the City. The 14 percent is the relevant figure in this discussion because the larger the transfer to the school system, the less available for other citizens needs, especially infrastructure needs, that have been and are continuing to be neglected. In what jurisdiction are the taxpayers only required to meet the demands of the school system, and to ignore all other needs? I can understand that the school board, school employees and their allies are ferociously trying to retain the large taxpayer subsidy received by the 25 percent of the households who have children in Falls Church City Schools from the 75 percent of the households who do not. However, IF THEY ARE HONEST, they should address why the needs for providing all other city services and infrastructure (i.e, streets, sidewalks, public safety, our rapidly deteriorating storm water sewerage infrastructure, etc.), which benefit all taxpayers, should be continually sacrificed to meet the perceived needs of the school system.

  10. dale walton on May 13th, 2013 1:36 pm

    Different perspectives should be encouraged. Doing this with the proper tone is important. We live in a City where differences in opinon used to be avoided. The City basically had one governing party and what that group decided was the way it was. I think the fact that more folks are challenging the status quo gives angst to some. Some don’t like to have to go thru the added steps of justifiying and being transparent on where money should be spent.

    As for the tax rate, I commented before that I personally think it is too high…..that the budget does not provide enough balance in meeting school commitments but also representing a wide range of other needs. For example, isn’t there basic agreement that the City Hall building and infrastructure is falling apart with nothing really earmarked? If so, what does that do for City Staff morale, etc, etc. Just one example.

  11. david wood on May 13th, 2013 1:58 pm

    Good article. The City does have a tax relief program for seniors and those with disabilities. This is thru the Treasurers Office.

  12. Brian Rye on May 13th, 2013 2:25 pm

    Just a couple of comments as someone who only recently moved to the City a couple of years ago. First, I’d submit that the process of determining how to spend precious taxpayer money should never be a comfortable one. There’s a finite amount of money for a far-larger list of wants and needs; priorities must be set and assumptions should be challenged. It’s not fun, nor is it supposed to be. Final decisions are then made and we move on. Whether you agree with them or not, I believe Mr. Kaylin and Ms. Barry deserve credit, not derision, for bringing a more fiscally conservative mindset to these discussions.

    The one aspect that troubles me is the haphazard way that last fall’s surplus was handled, given that the very same free-for-all could potentially erupt again in the future, given what appear to be conservative revenue projections, and even moreso if the sale of the water system is approved and millions of dollars suddenly are deposited into the City’s account. Some have suggested that there was a sort of “wink and a nod” that the Mt. Daniel iPads would be paid for in the event of a surplus last year, for example. Also, the $200k for a fence around the soon-to-be-rebuilt George Mason was authorized out of the blue in January as a knee-jerk reaction to the Connecticut tragedy. (If it wasn’t, and if a fence is deemed to be so important for the safety of our kids irrespective of what’s happening elsewhere, then wouldn’t a such a key student-protection element have been a more prudent use of last fall’s surplus than iPads for first-graders?) If there’s a sense that future expenditures might or will be authorized in the event of a surplus or other one-time event, and are thus being excluded from the formal budget request, I’d hope that this would be discussed during the open budgeting process, rather than behind closed doors. It’s still taxpayer money, no matter how it’s disbursed.

  13. TFC on May 13th, 2013 3:31 pm

    Every year we have this back and forth about the school budget. Every year *someone* says let’s talk about revenue sharing. …and…I never hear any details. Did Council and SB talk? Is there an insurmountable problem? Is there lack of agreement? Is it s model that would not work for us? Wish I knew.

  14. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on May 13th, 2013 9:53 pm

    John, when I see people quoting the 25% stat (that only 25% of the households use the public schools) I feel compelled to point out that it’s not logical to look at it that way. What percent of people living in the City have used public schools in the past or will use them in the future? I don’t know the answer, but it’s a lot more than 25%. If the expectation is that only people using the schools pay of them then we’re talking about private schools.

    I’m a supporter of the school budget and I’m willing to discuss the other needs of the City, because I do think those are important. I wish that the City had been budgeting for years for things like stormwater management maintenance and improvements (it would have required a higher tax rate for the past decade or so). Unfortunately, to meet all of our needs now we may need to pay more taxes so things don’t get neglected – schools, infrastructure, other services, etc.

    Since I moved into the City five years ago I’ve spent a lot of time and energy advocating for increased economic development of our commercial zones of the City because I think that’s the ultimate solution (or mitigation) of our residential real estate tax rate challenge. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by comments on other articles on the Falls Church Times, there are still a lot of people who do not want to see increased commercial development. But I just don’t see how we can strive for a lower tax rate, well funded schools and services, all while trying to prevent increasing the commercial tax base in the City.

    Brian R. – I’m with you about surplus planning. I had really hoped Council would make a plan ahead of time for what will almost certainly be a decent surplus coming up.

  15. FC resident on May 14th, 2013 1:09 pm

    “That’s a political choice as well. But it’s one I doubt most City residents would make.”

    Perhaps. However, many of us will make the choice to simply leave the City. It’s something I’m strongly considering, and several of my neighbors have said the same. There are plenty of great schools in the area (not to mention outside Va) where taxes are lower and public funds are spent more judiciously.

    I’ll also point something out about our schools. I don’t doubt that they are excellent. But I would be curious to see where the graduates end up — since that’s the true measure of a good education. One place to start would be looking at where GMHS grads go to college. I went to a large, diverse high school that was never considered “good” — and yet, most of the top students went on to attend Ivy and other top-ranked schools (Stanford, Duke, etc). A few years ago, I saw a list of GMHS grads and found only a handful going to UVA. All the rest were largely attending regional, less prestigious schools. Sure, the reasons may be financial — but with the highest median income in the U.S., I think it’s also worth asking: where are our graduates going after they leave FC?

  16. Brian Rye on May 14th, 2013 3:12 pm

    FC Resident, I believe the star of the girls’ basketball team has signed with an Ivy League school (Pennsylvania).
    http://fcnp.com/2013/03/20/mason-hoops-star-named-state-division-2-co-player-of-the-year/
    You raise an interesting point, but I’d suggest that college choice is dependent on a variety of factors. To get at your thesis, though, I’d amend your question slightly to see if the GM students you reference are applying to so-called “top” schools and being rejected, or if they’re simply choosing to go elsewhere for whatever reason.

  17. Cecily Shea on May 14th, 2013 4:02 pm

    Here are the stats for the Class of 2012
    http://www.fccps.org/gm/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=119&Itemid=266

    Many factors play into a student’s decision when choosing a school – scholarship money received from the school is a big factor.

  18. Gary LaPorta on May 14th, 2013 8:02 pm

    ” where the graduates end up — since that’s the true measure of a good education.”

    Do we value a graduate who goes to a community college to become a registered nurse less that one who goes to Yale an becomes a wall street broker making millions? I have met many graduates of the “finest” universities who squander their education on selfish, unproductive lives.

    Many successful Americans have dropped out of college or never attended one. Larry Ellison of Oracle, Bill Gates and Paul Allen of Microsoft, Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz of Facebook, Michael Dell of Dell Computers, Brian Dunn of Best Buy, Anna Wintour of Vogue, Barry Diller of IAC, John Mackey of Whole Foods, David Geffen, Ralph Lauren and Ted Turner. All college dropouts.

    Maya Angelou never attended college. She’s in good company with many other great American writers, such as Gore Vidal, August Wilson, Mark Twain, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Frost, Joseph Brodsky and Harper Lee.

    I’ll stop there, because the list is very long. I try not to judge a person by the education the received, but what they do with their lives.

  19. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on May 14th, 2013 9:48 pm

    I agree with Gary that the college one attends isn’t a great measure of one’s success in life. I suppose it could be something to look at when trying to determine how well a high school has prepared a student – if that student’s goal is to attend a highly competitive university – but as Cecily and Brian point out, there are plenty of reasons kids might not apply to or attend various colleges and universities.

    That said, from Gary’s list, Gates, Zuckerberg, and Moskovitz attended Harvard. Turner spent time at Brown, Frost at Dartmouth, Lee went to Oxford for a semester, and Fitzgerald spent quite a bit of time at Princeton. None have degrees from those institutions but they must have gone to pretty good high schools in order to get in!

  20. Gordon Theisz, Falls Church on May 14th, 2013 9:56 pm

    It really frustrates me when people talk about the “quality” of a college that a graduate may attend. It is certainly an honor to be accepted at a prestigious college, but I always thought that kids were supposed to find the school that was a good fit for them. I thought the goal was to get a college degree, not pat oneself on the back.

    But let me pat myself on the back: I for one am proud that I chose Old Dominion University, attended on a Navy ROTC scholarship, served my country, and then somehow found my way to medical school (UVa) despite attending what FCResident might consider a “regional, less prestigious” school. By the way, these “regional, less prestigious” schools are actually leaders in academic innovation and education quality and Virginia’s schools including Old Dominion are among the best at this.

  21. Win Singleton (Falls Church) on May 15th, 2013 11:47 am

    ” where the graduates end up — since that’s the true measure of a good education.”

    Well, I can speak for 3 GM Alums. My oldest daughter is a 1998 GM grad who went on to get her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Communications at NC State while in AFROTC. She is currently a Captain in the U.S. Air Force, serving as a Public Affairs Officer for the 11th Air Wing at Joint Base Andrews (formerly Andrews Air Force Base).

    My youngest daughter is a 2001 GM grad and got the first ever Bachelor’s degree in Photography and the Digital Image from the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. She is currently the Digital Photo Editor for Vanity Fair.

    The third is myself – a 1967 GM grad who is a Virginia real estate broker for the past 37 years, have my own web design firm since 1996 specializing in real estate websites for agents and brokerage firms, and I am a Continuing Education Instructor for the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS.

    Both of my daughters attended kindergarten through 12th grade. My family moved here in 1959 and I started going to school here in 4th grade at Madison Elementary School. So I can say that our city schools do a great job!

  22. dale walton on May 15th, 2013 11:51 am

    Folks in this City (and elsewhere) sometimes forget that college is not necessarily for everyone…..whether it is Ivy League or Community College….and guess what….you can still be a smart person…….maybe your preference is to choose a trade, a technical school, or the military and still in the end wind up a very successful person.

  23. Gary LaPorta on May 15th, 2013 4:02 pm

    Dale, I totally agree. Without plumbers, we would all be up @#$%’s creek.

  24. FC Voter on May 16th, 2013 12:49 pm

    Where graduates end up does matter. Is one’s future set in stone by their choice of college, no. But don’t be fooled, our society has become more “brand” conscious when it comes to degrees, not less. The HS senior who gets into Princeton, but goes to a local college, even a very good local college like Mary
    Wash, for example, may still be successful, but it will be harder without the name recognition (especially if you leave the region) and connections you get at the top insitutuions. It’s no coincidence that the last 4 US Presidents and most of the Supreme Court went to Ivy League Schools. Expect that trend to continue.

  25. dale walton on May 16th, 2013 12:50 pm

    Yea….what I also find troubling about schools including our school system….a lot of attention is spent on the gifted and those on the opposite side of the spectrum with special needs…..and those kids right in the middle, those who are sort of average meaning they are neither gifted or needy….sometimes those kids don’t get the attention they deserve. I think this City seems to have their heads up their your know what and only think …..oh my god my kid has to get into UVA or an Ivy League School which is why I moved to this City.

  26. Ira Kaylin on May 16th, 2013 10:20 pm

    Stephen,

    If I understand your Opinion Piece correctly you believe that, among other things, the budget requested/approved was not as large as was made to appear.

    However, comparing the growth rate of the School Transfer amount with the growth rate of the total School Division budget is not useful.

    More appropriate would be separate comparisons based on: 1) year over changes in the amount of the School Transfers and 2) year over year changes in total School Division budgets. Mixing and matching year over year changes between categories adds statistical “noise”. As you state in your article the total School Division budget includes State and Federal Aid and other revenues which are not included in the City’s Transfer.

    It is stated that the FY 2013 total School budget was $38.5 million and will increase to $41 million in FY 2014; a difference of 6.4%. What is not mentioned is that the $38.5 million includes approximately $1 million from a one time School Fund Balance transfer (primarily for Security Fence, two school buses, Kitchen replacement equipment). If that $1 million is removed the percent change increases to about 8.6%. So the use of School Fund Balance which is criticized later in the article is actually used to narrow the growth of the School Budget. Nice touch.

    Stephen why do you say that the School Fund Balance was “raided”? None of the funds used went to cover City expenses. The School Division requested the additional resources.

    Also, the Fund Balance figures cited do not appear to be correct. Stephen where did you get a beginning 2013 School Fund Balance of $3.8 million? The correct number I believe is $1.46 million. The beginning FY 2014 School Fund Balance is estimated to be approximately $450 k (Please see Schedule 9 page 96 of the City’s 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) and page 211 of the Proposed FY 2014 Budget).

    What is most telling is that the proposed FY 2014 Budget envisioned the City’s annual budget growing by approximately $5.7 million (from almost $69.3 million to almost $75 million) of which the School Transfer accounted for almost $4.0 million or about 70% of the overall budget increase.

    Conclusion: The individual data components (regarding budget growth) used by the School Division are correct but the interpretation based on those data points is not. On one hand the use of the School Fund Balance created a positive outcome by embedding it in a calculation used to show that year over year total budget growth was not particularly large (when compared to the yearly growth in the School Transfer). On the other hand the use of the same School Balance is portrayed as a negative… “necessitating that it will have to be made up elsewhere”.

    Ira

  27. TFC on May 17th, 2013 7:19 am

    Thanks for this comment Ira. It seems many folks refer to the school budget as only the City transfer….a more accurate figure includes state and federal money and use of balance.

  28. Stephen Siegel on May 17th, 2013 10:07 am

    Hello Ira,

    Thank you for your comment. What I intended to say, and apologies if it was not clear, was that the budget increase wasn’t the 14% figure that was being bandied about. I expressly indicated I wasn’t quarreling with your view, and pointed out that the schools could spend less.

    It sounds like you are saying the apples to apples comparison should be 8.6% and not 6.4%. One can certainly argue that is too much, but it remains well below 14%.

    Perhaps “raided” wasn’t the best term; I thought about that at the time I was writing. But isn’t it more transparent and a better practice not to use the fund balance as part of annual budgeting?

    Stephen

  29. dale walton on May 17th, 2013 11:03 am

    Outstanding comments, Ira

  30. Linda Neighborgall on May 17th, 2013 11:42 am

    Tone, or tone deaf? I’ve been thinking about this question a lot.

    Stephen, I couldn’t agree more that the tone of the last round of budget discussions was sometimes frustrating. I have lived in Falls Church and paid taxes for 35 years. Although the allocation of tax revenues between city government and schools has always been subject to robust discussion and disagreement, I do not recall it ever reaching the fever pitch that it reached this year. In recognizing this fact, however, you didn’t fully acknowledge the entire dynamic that was at work. It is an unfortunate omission, and a critical one.

    The other side of the “tone” issue is this: Those of us who were legitimately and in good faith concerned with the coming year’s school spending plan and out-year projections, who raised questions and attempted to suggest different ideas about how to seek greater efficiencies and economic security for both schools and city, were repeatedly told that we just “didn’t understand”, that if only we could understand we would see that there was simply no other way, that because we raised questions and made suggestions in all good faith, we were somehow “against” the schools.

    Those kinds of assertions unfairly insult the intelligence and malign the motives of citizens who, in fact, do understand and who do support a strong school system but simply seek to better define exactly what constitutes a strong school system and seek a more efficient, cost effective way to achieve it within the realities we face as a city. It’s disrespectful. People talk over each other rather than with each other. The goal becomes to prevail, rather than to seek compromise that might better serve the city. It should not be surprising that the result would be a heightened tone in the debate.

    You take issue with language chosen to express concerns, as though there is some universally acceptable vocabulary and overarching agreement as to what words fall outside the bounds of, as you put it, “Wow”. I think reasonable people would agree regarding all parties in this year’s budget discussions, we called ‘em as we saw ‘em.

    Particularly puzzling is your criticism of me and others who described the FCCPS strategy as “lobbying”. Call it what you will — a PR campaign, a political campaign, spin, or some other more pleasing term – to many it appeared to be a biased sales effort using taxpayer funded assets. People expect to see one-sided, fact-picked, less than transparent campaigns in an effort to prevail during partisan political campaigns. This kind approach is disappointing and, in my opinion, inappropriate when it pits a subordinate government entity in a partisan way against the superior entity. To some extent this is the story of budgeting in Falls Church – the FCCPS-based interest group traditionally has been a powerful voting bloc that has been successful because of its power to override broader community concerns. It’s not a healthy dynamic, especially at times of budgetary constraints.

    That said, it seems to me that community passions were justifiably aroused this budget cycle by the widening realization that the large tax increases and looming $100 million capital budget projection for school construction simply could be unsustainable, perhaps even if Godot finally shows up in the form of dramatically increased commercial revenue. Passions were also aroused, in this context, with what fairly appears to an insufficiently transparent, disciplined budget and spending process that produces seemingly no end of last-minute, unplanned-for school spending opportunities and a demand for a proportional share whenever a few extra dollars show up in the city’s coffers. Some call that a money grab. I don’t – I call it a process in need of improvement. Just like the “tone” of our budget debates, an improvement that will take good will and good faith on all sides.

  31. Brian Rye on May 17th, 2013 1:08 pm

    Very thoughtful comments, Linda. Thank you for sharing.

  32. Brian Rye on May 17th, 2013 2:02 pm

    As an aside, I just saw this story pop up about our neighbors…

    May 17 (Washington Post) — Thousands of Fairfax County
    schools employees are likely to receive raises in January as the
    School Board looks to boost lagging morale among the workforce.
    As they worked to finalize next year’s $2.5 billion budget
    Thursday, School Board members focused on teacher compensation
    after recent reports that Fairfax employees have sought jobs in
    neighboring districts with higher pay.
    “We already look bad,” said School Board member and former
    Fairfax teacher Pat Hynes (Hunter Mill). “This business about
    Fairfax County not paying its teachers, that is not the story
    that Fairfax County wants to tell.”
    During a work session that ended late Thursday, the board
    members discussed options to fund teacher raises, bus
    replacements to the school system’s aging 1,600 vehicle fleet,
    and expanding elementary school foreign language instruction.
    Board budget committee chair Sandy Evans (Mason) said that
    the most dire concern was employee compensation.

  33. TFC on May 17th, 2013 2:21 pm

    @Linda, an eloquent description of those of us who ask school funding questions…..the message I get is: if I am not 100% for ‘em, I am against ‘em. This just feeds into the us vs. them flavor of the discussions.

  34. Ira Kaylin on May 18th, 2013 8:51 pm

    Hi Stephen,

    Thank you for your response. You were very clear that your comments were not aimed at City Council members so there is no “quarrel” in that regard.

    My main point is that amount of the City Transfer remains the same whether the total School budget growth is 6.4% or 8.6%. What matters is the School Transfer amount has increased by around 14% or approximately $4.0 million. That is the only number that impacts the City’s budget.

    The Fund Balance is a component of the City’s Audited Financial Statements. Use of the Fund Balance is always considered part of the annual budgeting process.

    Stephen if you like we can continue our conversation off-line. Describing budget processes and appropriate accounting treatment is not unlike walking into quicksand; once one gets into get into the details it is hard to get out.

  35. Stephen Siegel on May 19th, 2013 1:07 am

    Thanks for the offer, Ira. I will gladly take you up on that.

    @Linda, thank you for your comment. I should have been more clear; I think that cries of Save our Schools were overwrought as well. And I think you make many good points in your missive. It’s a shame that everything has to be boiled down to either being “for” or “against.” As I said in chatting with a city councilor the other day, everyone wants to pigeon hole everyone else as an “ist” of some kind. It’s not a helpful approach.

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