City Council Approves Push for School Construction Bonds

Falls Church Times Staff

November 17, 2010

The Falls Church City Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday evening that authorizes the City to seek $5.95 million in Quality School Construction Bonds (QSCB).  Resolutions usually are not passed at Council work sessions, however speed was essential as the City’s application to the Virginia Public School Authority and the Virginia Department of Education must be filed by this Friday. 

School Board chair Joan Wodiska advised the Council that the funds would be used for the renovation and expansion of Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. Although the cost of the ideal plan would exceed the amount requested, the QSCB funds would enable the City to conduct the first phase, which would involve the addition of 12 classrooms, elimination of the trailers, and expansion of the cafeteria. She also stated that the Board has committed to making the first three years of debt service payments on the QSCBs from the School Fund Balance

QSCBs are tax credit bonds authorized for school construction and renovation projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). Issuers are eligible to receive a direct federal subsidy in an amount that is expected to offset the interest payments made on the bonds, resulting in zero, or near zero, interest cost. Issuers are still responsible for repayment of bond principal. Using the bonds to fund the improvements will result in projected savings of $138,000 per year, or $2.6 million over the life of the bond, as compared to conventional tax exempt bond financing.

The Council also discussed guidance and the calendar for the FY 2012 budget.  A general consensus was achieved on a tax rate of $1.28, which would be 4 cents above the present rate.  However that rate, which some members referred to as a “floor”,  likely will rise during the subsequent course of budget development.  City manager Wyatt Shields stated that the current rate of $1.24 would leave a gap of $1.9 million, even assuming no increases in salaries or the transfer to the schools.

Links to all documents pertaining to Monday’s work session are available at the  City’s website .

November 17, 2010 


34 Responses to “City Council Approves Push for School Construction Bonds”

  1. Mike Smith, Falls Church on November 17th, 2010 9:29 am

    I find myself puzzled by this rush to secure these bonds. I looked them up and they appear to be a good deal, but they are not free. What bothers me is that the City adopted a capital program with a huge school bond issue in a couple of years and now we are hurrying up to get money for something that was not in the plan. Does upgrading Thomas Jefferson eliminate the need for some or all of the $30+ million or are we simply chasing money today with no plan for tomorrow?

  2. Karen Hoofnagle Falls Church City on November 17th, 2010 1:00 pm

    This is tangential to the question of funding, but is there an actual time line for phase 1 of construction at TJ? I assume we won’t break ground on anything as soon as the Summer of 2011, but is the school board thinking this will happen in the summer of 2012?

    Also are the proposed phases out on the web someplace?

  3. Charlie Anderson, City of Falls Church on November 17th, 2010 1:02 pm

    Why oh why must everything be done at the last minute in this City? We’ve seen this before – bonds for transportation improvements, a multitude of affordable housing emergency requests just to name two categories.

    When did the state announce this bond program? When did the City find out about it? How could the City Council feel confident that this was a good thing to do with no time to review the intricacies of the School Board plan?

  4. Karen Hoofnagle Falls Church City on November 17th, 2010 1:02 pm

    Wups. I should have looked at the City website link before asking those questions. Nevermind.

  5. Karen Hoofnagle Falls Church City on November 17th, 2010 1:29 pm

    The answer to my earlier question is that construction would indeed occur late May-August 2012 at TJ which is just about the time TJ is estimated to be hitting its capacity. There are also drawings available at the link in the article showing where the additional spaces would be placed.

  6. Pat Riccards on November 17th, 2010 2:38 pm

    This is an important step forward for addressing the school facilities needs of our city. Falls Church’s application will be submitted to Richmond this week with the unanimous support of the School Board, the City Council, the Planning Commission, the Long Range Financial Planning Advisory Work Group, and the School Board Facilities Advisory Working Group.

    Our intention is to use the $5.95 million in QSCB for the following:
    * To right-size the TJ cafeteria so it meets the needs of a growing student population
    * To add 12 new classrooms to the current TJ facility
    * To remove trailers from the current TJ site
    * To provide wireless Internet to TJ, while also providing free wifi to all low-income students in the city.

    The Commonwealth of Virginia announced the availability of $229 million in QSCB bonds less than a month ago, with all final applications due by this Friday. We have had to accelerate our planning process to address capacity issues at TJ (which will exceed student capacity in less than two years) to take advantage of this opportunity. These bonds are essentially free money. Had we passed on this opportunity and not pursued QSCB and then tried to pursue the same project in a few months, it would cost Falls Church taxpayers an additional $2.5 million in interest on a project of the same size.

    Our application is the result of a multi-year school facilities planning process, with all reports from that process currently available on the Falls Church City Public Schools website.

    As discussed during the City Council work session George reported on, should the Schools be successful in securing a QSCB, one of the first orders of business will be to amend the CIP. Originally, the $30 million was put into the CIP as a placeholder to address the upcoming capacity issues at TJ, GM, and Mt. Daniel. By pursuing this $5.95 million project (the first phase in a long-term multi-phase effort), we will be able to directly address the needs at both TJ and Mt. Daniel for a fraction of the $30 million placeholder. We intend to work with the Council to revise the school facilities needs currently identified in the CIP to reflect this new project and its impact on other long-term needs.

    We should know by the end of December if we were successful in our application. If so, our intent is to break ground at TJ in 2012, with all construction completed for the 2013-2014 school year.

    I cannot stress enough how significant this week’s action is. Even in these difficult budget times, the City Council, Planning Commission, and School Board have stood together, speaking in one voice on the needs of our schools and our kids. And the support of the Long Range Financial Planning Work Group has been invaluable. We all recognize the acute school facilities needs facity the city. This week, we have all agreed to work together to address these needs, taking full advantage of a unique and time-sensitive program that provides us as close to free money as possible.

  7. j bowman (City of Falls Church) on November 17th, 2010 3:48 pm

    Seems like this is an opportunity that fits our Schools needs. I hope it works out!

  8. joyceg (FCC) on November 17th, 2010 4:19 pm

    Well, when our current Mayor was being fiscally responsible in asking the school board for projected budget figures/planning for the next fiscal year, the response was not helpful nor encouraging.

    Didn’t someone say sign the bill now and we’ll worry about what’s in it later.

    If you don’t build it, perhaps they won’t come – exceeding student capacity.

    Free wifi to All low income students? Why? What is the cost? We have plenty of computers at the library. These students no doubt already have wifi, aol, etc., access. How can you control that it will only be used by the student and for school purposes only?

  9. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on November 17th, 2010 5:41 pm

    Pat, thanks for the detailed update – sounds like a lot of people have been working hard on these plans and programs and I appreciate all the effort.

  10. Pat Riccards on November 17th, 2010 6:08 pm

    The wifi would be established through a public-private partnership and would be established at no cost to the city (and will be pursued whether our QSCB app is successful or not).

    We have a number of students in the community who do not have access to the Internet at home, putting them at a disadvantage. Through this partnership, we will be able to ensure all FCC students have access to all of the resources on the Internet, whether at school or at home.

  11. joyceg (FCC) on November 17th, 2010 8:57 pm


    Who supplies the laptops/computers? Through the partnership? This day and age, usually if one has a laptop/computer, one has access to internet. Wifi connect is quite popular now adays.

    Or, the library. Disagree, though. Just because one does not have internet at home, puts one at a disadvantage when we have excellent facilities at library. Perhaps safety (late at night to and from home), convenience, timing, hours of library. That said, it’s a good thing helping where we can.

    Thank you for the update and info re no cost to city.

  12. Pat Riccards on November 17th, 2010 9:13 pm

    The public-private partnership is focused on connectivity only. While wifi may be popular, we have sections of the city where it is not accessible. Ask some of those who have tried accessing wifi from the TJ library, and they will likely tell you they were unable to get a connection.

    The Falls Church Education Foundation, though, has a program that does provide laptops to students in the city.

    This is an issue where we can help all students, particularly those most in need. Providing all students the ability to access the Internet from home offers all of our kids the resources they need to achieve at the levels we expect. And you’ve identified a number of reasons why such home access is so important.

    And I should note that the partnership will not only cost the city nothing, but it will likely bring some additional revenue into the schools. While we are still working out the details, it can be a real win for all involved.

  13. Richard Donnely on November 17th, 2010 10:28 pm

    It sounds like saying the free wifi is to benefit our “low income students” is a red herring:

    Obviously persons who already have laptops have tried to log in the TJ library, and found it frustrating. Sounds like probably teachers and administrators (also…TJ is an elementary school, how critical is wifi to 3rd graders?).

    And how many of the kids in TJ are bringing their own laptops to school? Again, it sounds like its more for the adults, not the kids. And are you saying we are providing free wifi to the kids IN THEIR HOMES? What if they dont have computers? Why put a router in a house without a computer, especially if we are not providing computers? If they have computers, and can afford to live in the city, how “low income” are they?

    Will you only be providing this to those persons living in “low-income housing”? Are we funding the internet usage for their parents? Can I get the free wifi? Is wifi now a “RIGHT” that everyone should not only be able to get themselves, but we should now give to everyone (except people who can afford it)?

    Improving the school is great, but if you need to fix the wifi in the library, just do it…don’t make it sound like some social imperative “for our children”.

  14. Lou Mauro on November 17th, 2010 10:41 pm

    Pat Riccards,

    Mr. Donnely asks very good questions and I hope you answer them. You and the School Board often tiptoe to the edge of slippery slopes like this. Be careful. If, at no cost to the City, you are going to make something like wi-fi available to one group of students, you better consider why you should not offer it to all students.

  15. Pat Riccards on November 18th, 2010 9:39 am

    Mr. Mauro, you will find that I don’t tiptoe.

    For months now, the School Board has been exploring increasing the connectivity at our schools. In a 21st century learning environment, it is essential that all students and teachers have access during the school day, and that all students have access at home. We found a no-cost solution that both helps our school facilities while improving learning opps at home and across the city.

    When the Commonwealth released it’s QSCB guidance less than a month ago, it prioritized Internet connectivity. We could gain points on our application by accelerating our plans and moving forward with this public-private partnership.

    The goal of this effort is to provide all FCC kids access to the Internet. Despite some of the opinions expressed above, having a computer does not mean having access. And living in the city does not mean one can afford access. Under this partnership (once it is finalized), the Schools should be able to offer all kids wifi access.

    I’m happy to provide greater detail on this in an article for FCT if there is such an interest.

  16. Linda Neighborgall on November 18th, 2010 1:48 pm

    Does the city and/or school board have a program that facilitates donations of used, but still usable, computers to school children who do not have them? There must be people and organizations in the city that have surplus computers or computer equipment when they buy newer models.

  17. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on November 18th, 2010 1:56 pm

    Linda, I was thinking that same thing. My company, from time to time, has equipment that we need to get rid of. We run the computers into the ground so they’re not great by the time we move on – but we certainly end up with monitors and other peripherals that could be useful.

    Another problem with donating older computers is who helps get them (and keep them) working properly?

  18. Pat Riccards on November 18th, 2010 2:40 pm

    Linda and Andy, that is a great idea that I will find an answer to.

  19. John Coleman on November 18th, 2010 2:53 pm

    Mr. Richards
    Thank you for your posted comments. I would be interested in more information on the proposed wi fi connections that you mentioned in your comments. A wi fi connection is of no use if the student does not have a computer at home. Is the School Board budgeting funds for all students to have access to computers in their homes?

    It sounds like a number of individuals and bodies worked together to complete the application for the bonds in record time. I do get nervous, however, when I see your statement that the bonds are ” as close to free money as possible”. There always seems to be a cost or consequence attached to federal funds.

  20. Lou Mauro on November 18th, 2010 5:41 pm

    I am not being critical; from what we know thus far, it seems the Board has worked hard to achieve a laudable objective. My comment was meant as a word of caution, that’s all. I could be wrong, but I’m guessing that I have been around here a lot longer than you have. In any case, I am going to focus on your bottom line, literally: “Under this partnership (once it is finalized), the schools should be able to OFFER ALL kids wifi access.” [My emphasis.]

  21. THE EDITORS on November 18th, 2010 5:55 pm

    To School Board Member Pat Riccards:

    Thank you for your offer above to submit an article on the subject of wifi assistance for deserving students. Just send it to [email protected] and we’ll be delighted to feature it on the front page. Clearly there is considerable interest in this topic.

  22. Richard Donnely on November 18th, 2010 9:17 pm

    “wifi assistnace for deserving students”…..sounds alot like “all animals are created equal, but some are more equal the others”.

    “no cost solution”…is that free for the first year, then we oick up the bills for the rest? Is it “free” until we decide to keep it, or renew a contract, or something else? Please ensure these nuances are included (the long term plan).

  23. Mark Scardiglia on November 18th, 2010 10:09 pm

    “used, but still usable, computers”
    Wow. Every tech support person’s dreamworld: rode-hard-put-away-wet computers in varying states of disrepair and completeness, on a variety of hardware platforms, dumped into their lap by businesses looking to avoid the real cost of disposal and garner some kind of tax write-off. Yeah, that’s what we should shoot for. Because the best and most cost-effective way to supply a school system or business with hardware technology is to assemble a mongrel fleet of near-legacy machines whose usefulness is likely marginal.The ultimate false economy.
    Sorry, but I’ve been there.

  24. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on November 19th, 2010 8:41 am

    Mark, that was my general concern as well, which is why I wasn’t suggesting to offload our older computers because I wasn’t sure if the schools or their support organizations would be up for helping keeping them working. That said, there are many kids out there that would gladly take a very used computer to tinker with – it might be better than nothing (I would have loved that as a kid).

    However, the older LCD displays we have either work or don’t – there’s not much tech support associated with them.

    Richard, I think it makes sense to investigate the true cost of this wifi (it’s still not clear to me if this is just wifi in the schools or wifi, and the associated internet connection, for kids at home). However, I don’t understand the shocking response to the idea that there would be a program that helps kids who need help but not kids who don’t. There are all kinds of programs like that. One example is that some kids at school get a free lunch and others have to pay.

  25. Richard Donnely on November 19th, 2010 9:00 am

    Giving a kid lunch in the cafeteria is a lot different then paying for wifi at his house. One is a TRUE need, the other is a social belief about what constitutes “access” to learning.

  26. Charlie Anderson, City of Falls Church on November 19th, 2010 9:36 pm

    Richard, simple question: how old are you?

  27. Lou Mauro on November 19th, 2010 11:37 pm

    That’s out of line, Charlie. Do you have something against older people? Do you think they are less intelligent than you? Less “modern”? Too “traditional”? If so, it’s as divisive a sentiment as former Mayor Gardner’s “old guard” remarks. Richard makes a valid point no matter how old he is.

    Andy, we’re not talking about giving used computers to kids (and their families?) who can’t afford one. Why don’t you agree that if wi-fi is really going to be made available for FREE (and I’m not necessarily saying I agree that it should) that it should be OFFERED to all students (and their families?)? If given just to one group, what criteria will be used to decide who gets and who doesn’t? Who and how many people will have to be paid to formulate the criteria and apply them? And even if offered to all, that’s just the beginning of the questions. May the technology be used only for educational purposes? Only by the student? Who and how many people will have to be paid to administer the “program” (how easy it is to slide into unintended bureaucracy) for effectiveness and fairness? What happens if the student moves away?Or just leaves the school system, by graduation or otherwise? Or gets a job or wins the lottery and can afford to pay for his/her own wi-fi and internet service?

    It is “shocking” to me that you don’t understand the difference between food, a basic necessity of life, at school, and wi-fi, far from a basic necessity of life, at home.

  28. Charlie Anderson, City of Falls Church on November 20th, 2010 12:33 am

    Lou, the point of asking the age is because one’s perspective/paradigm is dependent on it. School is not as Richard remembers it surely and not as I remember it. Not age discrimation, just a fact.

    In this modern society as a student/young person, the internet is nearly essential to social existence. Furthermore, internet access is an absolute necessity to complete classwork in school. You must know this since you are a teacher! Parents also need internet access to stay in touch with the school, teachers, PTA. Lack of internet access puts a student and his or her family at an extreme disadvantage. Before Lou or Richard start pointing out that disadvantaged students can go to the library, remember the library’s hours are severely limited (and closed on Sundays) and many families may not be able to get there in the first place due to work hours/obligations.

    I applaud the school board’s efforts to recognize this unmet need, and to tie it with the bond application as the SB Vice Chair notes was something that gained points on the application.

  29. Kieran Sharpe on November 20th, 2010 11:30 am

    Two major advantages of this — perhaps the major drivers for some — are (a) a shift in building/grade alignments and (b) push out of any added major school project for about 8 years, Specifically, grade 5 could move to TJ and grade 8 to MEH. The Board has been hearing a preference from parents for some time for this grade realignment, and especially for the return of 5th grade to our elementary level. It seems clear the the revised alignment would be a better fit for students’ social development and learning continuity. The added capacity at TJ would have a domino effect on capacity elsewhere as students move from the MEH/GM area. Even if we factor in the likely need for a few smaller projects to make this realignment successful — such as upgrading science labs at MEH and expanding the library at TJ — the overall costs will be much lower than what previous Boards had been predicting and Councils had been fearing for school capital projects over say a 10-year time frame.

    Many important decisions remain — improvements for energy efficiency, accommodations for both construction and school operations to occur in close proximity, and integration of on-line learning — plus changes in staff location and staff/administrator relationships..

    The concept phase of our facilities study used a broad-based committee and public hearing process, the Board recently initiated an advisory group composed of Council, Planning Commission and Board members as well as senior staff, and there is a broad level of awareness in the community about our considerations over the past 18 months or so. However, Board members are aware that the public process for this kind of change still has miles to go. We’ll set out some major features of such a process at the 11/23 Board meeting, and carry the process into next year and throughout the design and building phases.

    Please keep an eye on the facilities planning segment of the Board’s Web site (, and provide the feedback so important to sustaining world class schools as we provide them room to grow.

  30. Richard Donnely on November 20th, 2010 2:43 pm

    First: to imply that I am out of touch with how things are in the schools today is way off base. Don’t be so presumptuous and pompous. Let’s discuss facts.

    I’m in my early 50’s (the new 40’s). I have children in both elementary school about to enter middle school, and middle about to enter high school. I am definitively involved in my children’s education. I watch what they bring home, I am in contact with their teachers, I read the letters and info that comes home, and yes…I follow them online through the portals. I talk with my kids about their education, our school system, and many many other things. Does anyone else want to challenge my connectivity to our schools without any basis other than my age?

    I must say though, that to already declare this an “unmet need”, and other similar terms that imply urgency and validity, I take it we have already completed a “who has wifi at home” study, and its results for this City lead us to believe this is a priority. I also hope the study included such qualifying questions as “who’s parent don’t want wifi for you?”. Simply polling who has it and who doesn’t may not take into account the parental wishes of the families.

    I’m all about school lunches, but the financial impact of this wifi program (which is free this year), needs to be “transparent” to use the quote of the day.

    I have heard several people tell me on this blog that I am wrong and out of touch for not immediately thinking this is a wonderful idea. I’m just saying that I’m not sold on it. I have not heard anyone answer any of the questions myself and Mr. Mauro have posed. Just people replying that I’m wrong and wifi is a must.

    In a time when we need new buildings, new investment and are on the verge of collapse, is this really free, or are we committing to increased spending next year? Simple question!!!

  31. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on November 20th, 2010 7:24 pm

    Lou, first I’d say, relax. I’ll have to think of others – but there are tons of things in society where people in need are provided free or discounted services. That’s my only point – that it’s not that strange to have a program like this.

    As for this specific program – I know no more about it than what has been written here. Are we talking about providing “free wifi” to people in their homes – or at school. Do people even know what “free wifi” is? If the schools have worked out a deal with an internet service provider to provide the internet access (with wi-fi router) then the cost of this program might be hardly anything.

    I’ll try to answer your questions:

    If given just to one group, what criteria will be used to decide who gets and who doesn’t? Let’s use the same criteria for free lunch.

    Who and how many people will have to be paid to formulate the criteria and apply them? None, if we use the lunch criteria.

    May the technology be used only for educational purposes? No, it can be used for anything that any residential internet connection can be used for.

    Only by the student? No, anyone within range of the access point can have access.

    Who and how many people will have to be paid to administer the “program” for effectiveness and fairness? None, if we go with the school lunch criteria.

    What happens if the student moves away? Or just leaves the school system, by graduation or otherwise? The router is returned to the ISP, just like if a paying subscriber moves away.

    Or gets a job or wins the lottery and can afford to pay for his/her own wi-fi and internet service? First of all, we could have a clause that anyone who applies to this program would have to donate any lottery winnings over $1M to the further implementation of this program. Otherwise, however we keep track of when kids should stop getting free lunch would apply. By the way, the phrasing of this question makes me wonder if you understand what it takes to provide wi-fi. These days it’s hard to get internet service without wi-fi – it’s almost always a feature of the standard router deployed by the ISP.

    Honestly, this seems like a lot of griping about nothing. Let’s see the details before we get all worked up about it. Personally, I think providing kids with technology skills and tools these days is pretty close to as important as lunch.

  32. Charlie Anderson, City of Falls Church on November 20th, 2010 10:10 pm

    Andy says: “Honestly, this seems like a lot of griping about nothing. Let’s see the details before we get all worked up about it. Personally, I think providing kids with technology skills and tools these days is pretty close to as important as lunch.” I say, exactly right.

    Richard says: “is this really free, or are we committing to increased spending next year?” I agree that this is a good question. Perhaps Mr. Riccards can answer it. But to your charge of pompousity regarding age, let me remind you that I was responding to this quote from you: “Giving a kid lunch in the cafeteria is a lot different then paying for wifi at his house. One is a TRUE need, the other is a social belief about what constitutes “access” to learning.”

  33. Lou Mauro on November 21st, 2010 1:19 am

    Andy, you just will not or can not understand that all I am saying is that if a government is going to make something like wi-fi available for FREE, it should OFFER it to EVERYONE. And though we have few details, it is not “griping about nothing.” There are important principles and potential precedents involved. Finally, if you don’t understand the difference between providing a basic necessity like FOOD at school and providing a technological device like wi-fi at home, you most likely never will. Maybe it’s because you have a defective “perspective/paradigm.” If you don’t know what that means, I don’t either. Ask Charlie.

    I am done with this subject for now [roar of approval from FCT readers]. You guys have worn me out. I give up. You are hereby appointed “Czar Forever And For All Purposes of Determining Who ‘People In Need’ Are And What They Should Get For Free.” Easy job. Just follow the school lunch guidelines.

    Poor Kieran, he posts an intelligent and informative comment on the actual subject of the article in question and it gets buried in our flurry of jabs and parries on a sub-issue. Sorry Kieran.

  34. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on November 21st, 2010 9:35 am

    Lou, I understand that you would like the program to be available to everyone, regardless of need. I disagree with that.

    I do stand by my feeling that freaking out before we know more about the program is kind of silly. We’re jumping on the potential precedent awfully early. Pat mentioned he might be willing to write up more details of the free wi-fi program, which would be great. Then we can all legitimately start freaking out.

    I thought Kieran’s comment was very helpful and actually way more important than this wi-fi stuff.

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