LETTER: Deeds Not Words

August 13, 2012

During a recent work session discussion regarding allocation of a portion of City excess revenue to fund school technology upgrades, a City Council member stated that the Council is responsible for representing the entire City, not just the schools. I won’t argue with that. My issue with the current Council is the seemingly low priority and increased deterioration of actual support for our schools.

In the strongest possible way, I submit that our schools and the children that attend them should be the number one priority of every Council member and citizen of this City. The schools and the needs of our children should come first. This is the socially responsible thing to do. Our children are our future doctors, teachers, engineers, artisans, writers…you get the point. If we want to remain a world class school system, then we have to make investments in technology. As Superintendent of Schools Dr. Toni Jones has explained:

Technology today is not as much about the machine itself, but about the impact on teaching and learning. Technology is curriculum. Digital literacy is an expectation for children, and to be successful in school they must have access. All of their state assessments are given on the computer. Just this year Virginia increased the rigor of the state math assessment to include “enhanced technology” items. The entire test is online, and 15% of the assessment requires enhance manipulation of the technology. The assessments were incredibly difficult for the children, and the biggest hurdle was utilizing the technology- not the math content. Children as young as 9 years old must know how to drag and drop, build online graphs, use an online compass, protractor, and build and manipulate charts. 21st century instruction must allow children to be in a learning environment that will build their digital skills.

I would encourage readers to visit the very informative Q and A that Dr. Jones put together on technology issues at http://www.fccps.org/edtech/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=77:technology-qaa&Itemid=47

But even if you don’t agree with putting our schools and children first because you believe it is the socially responsible thing to do; then do it because it is in the best financial interest of the City. If we don’t have world class schools, the consistent flow of people willing to pay a premium to move and live here will wane. Yes, we live in a convenient geographic location. But it is just ridiculous to assert that our fabulous home values (and the resulting revenue generated as a result of the same) is not tied directly to our first rate schools.

Don’t believe me? Ask a local Realtor what they think about this. You can literally walk across the street to areas where schools do not perform as well and property values are significantly lower. It is irresponsible and just wrong to think that we can continue to maintain our excellent schools and at the same time continue to reduce the City’s investment in students. Through amazing effort, our fine teachers and school staff have “bootstrapped” us through this tough financial period. But as great as we are as a people, even we would have lost Bastogne without reinforcement. You just simply can’t expect our teachers and staff to “hold the line” and continue to deliver excellent results without help.

We are are on a dangerous course, but I remain hopeful that our elected officials on City Council will recognize this and steer us in a better direction. Our first President, George Washington had a motto for his life that he endeavored to live by: “Deeds, not words.” Saying you support the schools and actually doing something about it are two entirely different things. I urge everyone in the City: Do something about it!

Greg Rasnake is a member of the Falls Church City School Board.

August 13, 2012 


41 Responses to “LETTER: Deeds Not Words”

  1. Jan B Hertzsch on August 13th, 2012 6:36 am

    My first house in Ohio was in a poorly performing school district with the boundary running down the middle of a street a few blocks away. There was a significant increase in the price of houses as well as the prestige factor derived from which side of that street you occupied.

    This is an opportunity for the city council to boost our property values and better serve the citizens in one stroke.

  2. TFC on August 13th, 2012 9:35 am

    My personal opinion is that we need balance between the needs of the schools and the needs of government to serve all the citizens. Both are important.

  3. Melissa Morse on August 13th, 2012 9:40 am

    I could not agree more that we need to show support for our schools at this time. I no longer have a child in the school system; my daughter graduated last year. But for the sake of the young people who will someday be her college classmates, her next door neighbors, her co-workers, and other people in her adult life we owe it to all of them to provide the best education possible. By doing everything we can to make sure they receive the best preparation for their future, and technology is a HUGE part of all of our futures, we also improve our chances that one of those young people will find answers to the significant problems or issues that affect our lives, both now and later. (Maybe one of them can come up with an answer to the water system issue!)

    In addition to Deeds Not Words the phrase “our children are our future” should also be remembered today.

  4. Mike Smith, Falls Church on August 13th, 2012 9:52 am

    I have followed this discussion with some interest, and it is clear the the two sides are arguing two entirely different points. One group is focused on the purchase of computers, the other is focused on taking a holistic view of the City’s finances. If forced to choose, I would advise focusing in on finances as a good fiscal position for the City ultimately will result in more resources for the schools.

  5. Brian Williams (City of Falls Church) on August 13th, 2012 10:07 am

    I fully support Greg on this. Greg’s two reasons that everyone should care are exactly right.

  6. D. Wayne Jones on August 13th, 2012 12:32 pm

    All the high school age children that I know already have tablets or laptops of their own. Why do we have to buy them another one? For those families who cannot afford one, let’s figure out a way to get them one.

    If you argue that you need to get your children ready for college, they will need to buy one for that, because colleges don’t give you one.

  7. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on August 13th, 2012 12:32 pm

    Yeah, I think Greg is right on this one.

    Mike Smith, I think you’re also right that the folks arguing the other side of this issue are actually talking about something different. So what to do? I think if City Council wants to establish some bigger picture guidelines or set priorities differently then they should start working on that going forward – but in this situation I think they either need to trust the School Board is asking for something they really think is needed, or decide they don’t trust the School Board and turn down the request. I don’t think it’s working to say, “hey, we’re not trying to tell the School Board what to spend money on but we think we need to take a longer term approach to finances so we’re not going to let them spend this money on that thing.”

  8. Paul Handly on August 13th, 2012 12:47 pm


    ditto on Brian’s comment. I’d only add that our fore-bearers established this City in order to create and support our own high quality school district; without the schools as our funding highest priority we are a city without a purpose and might as well join Arlington.

    TFC is right to speak of balance. Investments in our schools are out of balance with what is needed and Council should act now to fund the stated technology needs and apply the rest of the “surplus” to facility improvements in the City.

  9. TFC on August 13th, 2012 1:18 pm

    If folks check the city website for tonight’s meeting…the “Tarter amendment” is posted for discussion on the agenda. Looks like carve out 600G for water wars, divide the rest three ways…general gov’t for pay as you go CIP items, schools (including a transfer for the technology) and a rebate for taxpayers. This may be a hint for the direction Council will take???

  10. Carol Mallory on August 13th, 2012 1:28 pm

    It may be that FCCPS is finding itself in an unusual position; behind the leaders in an important area of educational experience for city students. I retired as an administrator at a Fairfax County public high school where the student to computer ratio is better than 2:1. With approximately 2,000 students, the school has 1,570 computers (1,041 of them 5 yrs old or newer). The school has 147 electronic interactive boards (smart boards), 131 printers and 134 wireless access points. It is a high performing school with a large special education population and a free&reduced lunch group of about 9-10%. All students at that school have many more opportunities to use technology at school than those at GMHS. Our students are disadvantaged in the same way as students at schools without good science labs, advanced math courses, foreign language study, and so forth. I hope the city council will correct this weakness in the school system while it has the chance to do so. (GMHS class of 1965)

  11. mel watson on August 13th, 2012 1:47 pm

    Unless I missed it – – I don’t see a word or reference in the article to the balance that is needed in the City between the schools and everything else. And this comes from someone who appreciates the schools since I am a graduate and so were my children. And I understand the benefit to home values. But there needs to be balance…..is the City basically just a “school district.” What about the balance that is needed with those of us who are older, who have paid our dues, so to speak, in terms of the school system…and who no longer have children in the school system. The impression one could draw is that the City is really not for your any longer…..when you wake up one day and your real estate tax bill is $10,000 for a modest home and you are on a fixed income….no big deal.

  12. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on August 13th, 2012 5:31 pm

    I haven’t looked at the Tarter amendment – but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the way things go as a compromise. I suppose I wouldn’t be against it – but does anyone have any idea of what it would cost to issue a rebate to taxpayers? My concern is that actually processing a rebate would be a particularly inefficient way to deal with the surplus.

  13. TFC on August 13th, 2012 6:18 pm

    My thought as well Andy. There will be a variety of costs associated with any rebate…see the Shields memo recently posted to tonight’s agenda. The costs reduce the pot of money to be rebated……a nice gesture but the costs will eat into it.
    I like the idea of reducing our debt servicing by using money as PAYGO for some approved CIP projects…I think it saves all taxpayers over time.
    In the end, I think schools will get their request since such the topic is so hot.
    As an aside, I wish someone would buy me a new laptop.

  14. FCC resident on August 13th, 2012 7:28 pm

    Balance is needed. The parents of the school children should purchase their laptops, not the City. The City needs crosswalks & traffic signals, which benefits all citizens and especially the local businesses.

  15. Cecily Shea on August 13th, 2012 11:30 pm

    The laptops were not for the children to use at home. The laptops would have been for classroom educational technology.

    Mr. Tarter offered an amendment that would have given 1/3 of the surplus to the City, 1/3 to the Schools and 1/3 to the taxpayers.

    None of this will happen as the vote went 3-3.

  16. fcc resident on August 13th, 2012 11:47 pm

    Rather than go through the cost of issuing the taxpayer a rebate at this time, return the overage plus next fiscal year (or mid-year, if possible) by reducing the tax rate to $1.21 or less.

  17. Michael Baker Falls Church on August 14th, 2012 8:47 am

    I think the School Board is right in expecting that some of the money they gave up should be returned. Without maintaining the high quality of schools in Falls Church our property values suffer – FACT. How much of our tax money has been squandered over the senseless fight over the water system? Why is it that anytime there is a surplus in government, some politicians immediately want to give it back. As if asking the citizens of the community to help pay for the community is somehow wrong.
    I don’t like paying higher property taxes anymore than the next, but if it is for the schools, it comes with the territory. My parents paid the highest taxes on their home long after they had children in school, but they never thought it was wrong.
    This is again a fight by some on the City Council who don’t realize that without the schools in Falls Church there is now reason for Falls Church

  18. John MacKinnon on August 14th, 2012 12:15 pm

    After speaking last night, I both commend and blame Ira Kaylin. He successfully locked up 2 other lap dogs on the Council to walk perfectly in lock step with his every thought. He then turned on trying to badger the other Council members into voting his way. Meanwhile, he’s now turned the citizens of this great city against each other.

    Some residents now look at their tax bill, especially on fixed incomes and shudder with each increase. Some want to use other projects needing improvements or a rainy day fund as higher priortity than the schools. Others now wonder why they need to pay for educational improvements when they’ve got no kids in the school system.

    Proponents argued that the .37 cents per kid per day, the wave of technology already in schools and the Commonwealth’s Virtual School mandate should point towards the funding for the technology for the schools. Some also felt that a gentleman’s agreement to restore the funding and a promise albeit oral should be honored.

    Ultimately, what I witnessed became a nasty discourse between the Citizens against each other. All because Ira Kaylin refused to work a compromise and air his plumage for all to see.

    Beautifully done, Mr. Kaylin.

  19. TFC on August 14th, 2012 1:07 pm

    I agree with Mr. Kaylin and those that favor the original idea for surplus funds….I think reducing debt service costs will benefit all citizens by lowering one element of our budget that must be included when setting the tax rate.
    The refund/rebate/credit is a nice gesture but we are not including one group of folks that make a contribution to our tax coffers…businesses. Last night Gary pointed out the business contribution. Sales and meals taxes, BPOL….I don’t see/hear discussion of a rebate for those folks. Sure, the real estate tax is the biggest piece but others paid taxes too. I imagine the admin costs to include these taxpayers would be horrendous.
    The tech issue…I don’t know. That topic is all outta shape in my mind. I am still not sure if schools are asking for the money because they can’t afford it without this “extra” money?? The answer could tip my thinking.
    Last night was a disaster…

  20. Suzanne Updike on August 14th, 2012 3:05 pm

    What happened to “version 1” from two weeks ago – the version that was not voted on during either council meeting? It included the tech funding for the schools and put the bulk of the surplus into pay-as-you-go CIP. It didn’t include the rebate.

    Couldn’t that have made both sides sorta happy? It would have helped reduce future bond costs. It ditched the rebate (Kaylin is right about this, it makes no sense) and still provided the schools with the tech money (the schools did say they would like more technology funds if revenues were better than forecasted).

    It was really disappointing that there was no compromise.

  21. mel watson on August 14th, 2012 3:09 pm

    Last night was messy, but I don’t think a disaster. The City typically avoids such conflict….it basically “kicks the can down the road” on many fronts and in the end increases taxes…..while continuing to commit one miscue after another….and not taking advantage of certain opportunties that present themselves either because of fear, slowness to act, or the plain fact that some really don’t want it that bad…..in short we are now paying for all of the things that have been building for many years…..there is not much new about the underlying reasons…it more that the needs and priorities, and taxing capacity have reached capacity.

  22. Ron Peppe (Falls Church City) on August 14th, 2012 4:19 pm

    The door is still open for compromise. Last night at the meeting 3 of us said “let’s pull out our calendars, find a time to meet, and keep discussing and find some common ground.”

    One council member has not weighed in yet, so I am guessing a lot of this will come down to what he thinks, assuming we have a meeting where he gets to weigh in.

    Regardless of the final outcome, I sincerely hope that the council at least continues an open and transparent process of public discussion. Last night was messy, but at least it was public business being done in public. We have lots of different opinions in this town, including opinions about what are the “facts.” It is helpful for folks to know what the elected officials actually stand for via their “deeds, not words,” as the title here suggests. That is true regardless of our own positions on this issue.

  23. mel watson on August 14th, 2012 4:56 pm

    Maybe this is not the best example – – I am not one of these folks who encountered this – – but what do you say to someone who has just spent $7,500 on their own money to clean up a major issue caused by a stormwater deficiency that is not his fault….maybe they have no children or their children have graduated from the City school system. One could conclude from this article that schools are the only selling point for City living and increased value. When this same person goes to sell their home and someone sees stormwater damage or asks about it…..and has the risk of incurring future damage…do you think that is going to be a plus to this resident/seller in terms of value. I just personally think this article is too narrow in scope when talking about property value. Again not to beat a dead horse – – more balance that represents all residents of the City.

  24. TFC on August 14th, 2012 6:34 pm

    @Suzanne, the original prposal was retitled “revised”..there had been a math error that was corrected. If you look at the docs associated with last night’s taped session (it was just posted) and open the agenda, you will see it listed first as “(TO12-13)-Revised Budget Amendment 2nd reading”

  25. Suzanne Updike on August 14th, 2012 8:24 pm

    TFC — If I remember correctly, at the August 6th city council meeting, there were two versions of the budget amendment . Version 2 apparently was a late addition to the docket. They passed version 2 on first reading with a 3-2 vote. Maybe I am confused, but when I was watching that meeting, it was my understanding that version 1 contained the school tech funding and version 2 did not include the school tech funding. (There are not two versions of the budget amendment listed in the online agenda for that meeting, but that is what I remember)

  26. Suzanne Updike on August 14th, 2012 8:32 pm

    TFC — maybe I was mistaken and neither version had the school tech funding? Was it only discussed as a council/school agreement and never put to paper? Seems at least some council members expected it to be in the budget amendment….

  27. Cecily Shea on August 14th, 2012 9:18 pm

    Suzanne and TFC
    The Aug 6 original version had the school tech funding. Version 2 which was presented last minute and didn’t even show up on the City’s website until the following weekend excluded funding for technology for the schools. Version 2 was voted on 3-2.

  28. Cecily Shea on August 14th, 2012 9:19 pm

    Sorry. That would be the July 23 City Council meeting.

  29. SueFC (Falls Church) on August 14th, 2012 9:36 pm

    As an aside – in this day and age, why can’t a council person who is out of town for business, call in (phone, video, web-ex, something) and participate in the meeting? Seems like much of this could be avoided if that were the case.

  30. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on August 14th, 2012 10:50 pm

    SueFC – that’s a good question. It would be great if we could leverage technology more.

    I didn’t watch the meeting but I gather at least one person proposed postponing the vote until a future meeting. Was there a reason given for not doing that? Is this issue up against a deadline? Or was the thought that not everyone would be at the next meeting either so why bother?

  31. TFC on August 15th, 2012 7:23 am

    If you check the city webcast link for the July 23rd Council meeting you can see both versions of the ordinance…one with the tech money and one without. The one without the tech money is marked as the one voted on at this meeting. The trail of breadcrumbs for versions of the ordinances is remarkable.
    At the Council meeting Monday night…there seemed to be much confusion about the time lines for them.

  32. Cecily Shea on August 15th, 2012 8:31 am

    The second version – the one without the tech funds – which was voted on 7/23 wasn’t added to the City’s webpage until after I brought it up to a council member on 7/28. Therefore, it wasn’t up on the city’s we page as you suggest.

  33. Ron Peppe (Falls Church City) on August 15th, 2012 9:56 am

    Andy and SueFC:

    Current VA law does not allow remote participation except under very limited circumstances. Several of us has asked over the years that we put this in the legislative agenda, since the laws are really out of touch with technological reality. The critics say that only in person meetings provide transparency, but, as we have seen, even face to face meetings leave a lot up in the air. There are ways to use the technology that could provide better transparency and make it easier for everyone to know who voted for what.

    3 of us at the meeting repeatedly urged the others to postpone the vote until a date all could participate. In my many years of serving on bodies like this, it is usually considered a common courtesy to postpone votes on big issues until all members who have strong opinions can participate.

    The various ordinances on the table do confuse things, but the main takeaway here is that the council did not make any decision on funding- it simply failed to obtain a majority to determine anything on any of the proposals, so they all failed. In effect, it was decision by inaction.

    We could still convene a meeting and come up an actual decision at any time. Technically any two members can call a meeting, but it take 4 votes to approve anything.


  34. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on August 15th, 2012 11:34 am

    Ron, I suppose it’s not surprising that state law prevents using technology like this… a bummer but not surprising. The notion that technology would provide less transparency and not more is strange to me – but I guess these things take time.

    It sounds like this issue could be brought up again and the surplus could be moved out of the fund balance and utilized in various ways. Does anyone know if Council intends to revisit the issue in a future meeting? What, if any, deadline exists for making a final decision on the surplus?

  35. Lou Mauro on August 15th, 2012 12:38 pm

    Ron. Postponing meetings for “big issues” because members are absent runs the risk of legislative paralysis. There are many big issues. Those who think they’re in the minority will want to postpone. Those who think they’re in the majority will not. Simple politics. Fewer decisions will be made, and in less timely fashion. Everyone appreciates that you all have “real” lives and that you devote an enormous amount of time and effort to serving on the Council (and School Board). But the answer is not postponing meetings. The answer is attending them.

  36. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on August 15th, 2012 1:25 pm

    Lou, I think that’s a valid stance to take – and it seems like most of the time Council does just plow ahead even when people aren’t there. I think this case is a bit different in that the outcome (3-3 tie on the issue) leads to another form of legislative paralysis – although I suppose if one of the two voting blocks is happy with the outcome of a tie then they’re successful either way.

    I do think that if the issue can just be raised again at a future meeting then having the vote this week and coming to a tie isn’t a big problem – hopefully the issue will get floated again soon, when a more definitive decision can be made.

  37. TFC on August 15th, 2012 3:25 pm

    Cecily…I agree it was not up at the time…only that it is present now for folks to review.
    It has been a persistent problem with docs…like button, button, who has the button? Things go up and then are gone, things don’t appear at all yet are the subject of voting.

  38. Falls Church Resident on March 21st, 2013 11:33 am

    Of course Mr. Rasnake is for fully funding the schools. We fund our schools primarily through real estate taxes. Interestingly, Mr. Rasnake currently lives in a home that is assessed at more than $350K less than its asking price. Let’s see if Mr. Rasnake has the same attitude when he moves into a home that is assessed at its full value.

    Come to think of it, why is Mr. Rasnake’s home assessed so low?

  39. Cecily Shea on March 22nd, 2013 9:16 am

    I suspect that MANY homes in FC are assessed well below value even though by law they are to be assessed at current value.

  40. TFC on March 22nd, 2013 1:47 pm

    As with any seller….you can *ask* anything but what you get or are offered, may be quite different.

  41. Stephen Siegel on March 22nd, 2013 5:42 pm

    City records show Mr. Rasnake paid $539,000 for the house in 2008, and the area Multiple Listing Service shows he paid even less at $512k. The discrepancy is because the city records show only the closing price, and not whether there was a seller subsidy.

    But either way, the house is assessed above what he paid, so I don’t see a conspiracy there.

    As for the asking price, his listing says the house has been “lovingly restored,” while the listing from when he purchased the house says it was being sold for land value and needed considerable work.

    So it appears he has put in a lot of improvements, and the market will determine how much value he added. The assessor may not be aware of the improvements, so it is still assessed near its value from 2008, as many other houses are.

    However, the assessor has previously told the Times that he scans real estate listings for evidence of improvements to help determine fair value, so whoever buys the house should be aware that its assessment is likely to rise considerably. But because of the evidence of improvement described in the listing, it also is likely to rise considerably in the near future even if the house doesn’t sell and Mr. Rasnake remains the owner.

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