MAN ABOUT TOWN: It’s All About the Schools, Stupid

man-about-townBy GEORGE SOUTHERN
Falls Church Times Staff

February 1, 2010

I write this with trepidation, aware that if I keep urging that Falls Church City Schools merge with Arlington schools, the Man About Town might become the Man Run Out of Town.

But – these are desperate times. I keep thinking about a comment Gordon Theisz made three weeks ago: “The schools are why Falls Church became independent in the first place. If you give away the schools, then why bother to run the town/city?

The good doctor makes a good point: It really is all about the schools. And in urging that we merge with Arlington schools, I’m not trying to save money – I’m trying to save the schools.

Remember Around the World in 80 Days? Crossing the Atlantic on a steamboat, the heroes run low on fuel. So Phineas Fogg buys the boat and orders it stripped of everything that will burn to fuel the boiler. He wins his bet, but the ship is left a mere skeleton.

That’s what I see happening to our school system. We’ll stay independent at all costs – stripped of the programs that make education an enriching experience.

What makes good schools, anyway? I fear that in judging our schools among the best in the country we’re relying too much on standardized test scores. Sure, our kids are smart – because they’ve been nurtured by smart parents and given all the advantages. But there’s so much to a great school program that isn’t measured by test scores, and essential elements could be eviscerated by the budget crisis. Some examples: music, arts (including vocational), sports, and foreign languages.

In addition to teaching in half a dozen schools myself, including inner-city schools, my itinerant career caused my children to attend schools in Alexandria City, Fairfax County, Arlington, and Falls Church, plus private schools on four continents. One superior thing I noticed about private schools is that sports were not primarily an “extracurricular” activity – they were a core component. Playing on a team was not an option, it was a requirement – and forget about being “cut.” A team experience is so important to a child’s development. But now we’re talking about reducing the already low emphasis on school athletics and physical education.

As a student I was never much of an athlete, but I did play in the band, which is a “team” of a different sort that also demands physical coordination. Studies show that students who participate in music programs also tend to score higher in academic achievement. But the budget deficit could cause the termination of the school system’s longtime, dedicated music paraprofessional, Larry Allen. (Watch our feature video of the elegant argument by GMHS student band president Jack Western to save Allen’s job.)

Then there are the industrial arts/vocational courses which our little school system can hardly support anyway. Many students need these programs, so thank goodness for our agreement with Arlington to allow them to participate there.

Middle school foreign languages other than Spanish? We’re struggling to maintain French, while Arlington includes Arabic, Chinese, and Latin.

Our youngest daughter benefitted from the swim club started in 2004 by Janice Nette, a GMHS parent. But the school system had no money to fund it, even in those flush times. It took five years for the swim program to become a full-fledged school sport. And it was always catch-as-catch-can to schedule pool practice times – while over in Arlington, all three high schools have their own pools.

Our eldest daughter attended JEB Stuart High School in Fairfax County, and rowed on the tradition-laden crew team. That experience led her to row at the University of Virginia and to compete in the NCAA finals in California, where her boat won. (No such chance at George Mason.)

Meanwhile, Arlington continues to raise the bar with teacher salaries – and don’t tell me that doesn’t attract good teachers. Look at the Falls Church pay scale compared to Arlington – starting salaries are about the same, but for experienced teachers, Arlington pays far more. Wonder why our teacher turnover is so high?

Take a look at the spending reduction options proposed by Superintendent Lois Berlin. The “worst case” scenario – and it does indeed sound draconian – saves only $3 million. Parents are rightly protesting – don’t cut this, don’t cut that. But what is the poor superintendent supposed to do?

It’s like Mark Twain said: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” We can talk all day about why school programs must not be cut, but that doesn’t do a thing to preserve them.

Folks, read the handwriting on the whiteboard. It’s not going to get any better. Even with higher and higher taxes, Falls Church cannot provide the opportunities to students that exist next door in Arlington. It’s not a matter of bad management, it’s a matter of 1) a poor economy of scale,  2) a weak commercial tax base, and 3) an ever-increasing student/resident ratio.

And now, please excuse me while I don my bulletproof vest before venturing outside to walk the dog.


February 1, 2010 


80 Responses to “MAN ABOUT TOWN: It’s All About the Schools, Stupid”

  1. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on February 5th, 2010 10:17 am

    Victoria, I’m not sure when IB and AP exams became something funded by schools. When I was in high school in Fairfax County in the 1990s I’m pretty sure we all paid for our own AP exams. What about SATs, who pays for those? I was kind of surprised to hear that Falls Church is paying for AP exams.

    I’m guessing most families with kids with special needs have various expenses that aren’t covered by the schools – is that an unfair burden on those families?

    This is what I think – kids with special needs have higher hurdles to get over in life than kids without special needs. In tough times, I think the kids that have more inherent advantages can get by with a little less.

  2. Gordon Theisz, City of Falls Church on February 5th, 2010 1:14 pm

    Victoria, I fail to see how excelling kids in Falls Church City are put at a disadvantage by having to pay to take an IB exam. Like Andy, my family paid for my AP exams, and everyone still has to pay for SATs and college application fees. These are voluntary activities. I’d also bet there are programs for financially disadvantaged folks to still participate. I also played in the band, and my kids are doing so, and I think that the arts are very important and would not support drastic cuts there. Athletics are also important to keep the kids well too and my kids play too. Again, all voluntary.

    Special education utilization is voluntary, but provision of it is required by the state. I don’t believe the same is true for advanced classes. BTW, even kids in private schools are permitted an IEP evalation by the public system. This is about taking care of educational needs, not providing “nice to haves.”

    If we are talking about subsidies, however, what about paying Fairfax County to send kids to Thomas Jefferson HS? If FCC already has one of the best high schools in the region, why are we sending the uber-gifted elsewhere? Ouch, did I touch an electric rail?

  3. Victoria Kwasiborski (Falls Church City) on February 5th, 2010 2:53 pm

    Gordon and Andy, I respectfully beg to differ with both of you. The tired argument has always been that since the students who excel will naturally succeed, they’re obviously not at any disadvantage. This is a fallacy. The highly able students are our national leaders in the making, and curriculum designed for them is increasingly passed over in favor of the (often remedial) education necessary to meet NCLB and other standards of learning. Our system has 14 special education teachers and specialists, but only 3 specialists for the highly able. The numbers speak for themselves.

    I don’t think students who take IB and AP exams should have to pay for the exams at all. Shouldn’t we want to support our best and brightest? I’ll also agree that in tough times, belt tightening is prudent and exam fees may be necessary. The problem is that the tightening isn’t across the board-it’s disproportionately affecting all but one group of students.

    The question about paying for students to attend TJHSST is about showing support for our best and brightest who need a stronger educational focus on science and technology. I see nothing wrong with that; our school system is providing an educational service to a very select and very small group of students. And I fully expect to see cuts to this budget to be considered, as well.

    The bottom line is that, all required educational opportunities notwithstanding, every special educational service in our school system should be subject to budget cuts and considerations.

  4. Lou Mauro on February 5th, 2010 3:28 pm

    Well said, Victoria.

  5. Ron Peppe (Falls Church) on February 5th, 2010 3:59 pm

    Ok, a few more clarifications on special ed.

    Special ed is affected by the budget proposals. All staff would be subject to some of the cost cutting proposals, including special ed staff. Examples would be the loss of 2 days of pay and the changes to the benefits plans. All areas would also be subject to the 5% material and supply cut. There is a proposed loss of a special ed instructional team leader position at TJ, and the reduction or elimination of the support student services coordinator position.

    Even now, the system has also been trying to deliver some of the mandated services in a more cost effective manner, such as using cabs for transport instead of buses, streamlining paperwork, and using technology.

    I do not have an average cost per student because the range of services is so broad and varied. Many students receiving special ed services also use other services such as gifted and talented, and career and tech services, so it is hard to identify a meaningful average given all the overlap. We do receive some federal and state funding that can only be used for special ed purposes (last year $366,800 federal- which was used to provide 4 FTE teacher positions and $327,200 from the state).

    Hope that explains some of it a little better. The various proposals for cutbacks hit all areas. The school board will continue the budget discussion Tuesday night at a work session (rescheduled from this Saturday because of the weather), so stay tuned and keep weighing in.


  6. CR Sanders on February 5th, 2010 4:22 pm

    And a clarification for TJHSST –
    Participation in sending qualifying FCC kids to TJHSST, a regional Governor’s school, IS part of the required Gifted program the City Schools must have and in particular, has had approved by the Virginia Department of Education. Please refer to the FCC school website for the G and T program, called TAAP here in Falls Church.
    Additionally, the cost of sending kids to TJHSST is roughly $13.500 versus the over $18,500 the city pays to educate those children here in FC. The city “sells” tuition seats to kids whose families live outside Falls Church at a net gain of over $5000.00. This was fully vetted just 6 or 7 years ago during the school budget process and the school board wisely determined then that participation by FCC in TJHSST is not a budget issue. (Thank you to Jerry Barrett, former school board member.)
    No local school district can replicate the opportunity presented by any regional governor’s school. Allowing all who meet the criteria set by the school an opportunity to attend these schools (regional governor’s schools) is appropriate.

  7. Gordon Theisz on February 5th, 2010 9:02 pm

    Thanks CR for the clarification on the TJHS issue. I went to the VDOE website:, and there it is.

    Also thanks to Ron for the special ed clarification, clearly not getting a free pass. I’ll look forward to how all of this works out. In the meantime, we can all rest comfortably knowing that our own children are highly intelligent and among the best and brightest, kind of like Lake Wobegon – all above average.

  8. Dreamingin22046 on February 5th, 2010 10:12 pm

    Victoria, I think it is misleading to say that we have only three TAAP specialists when there are is also the IB coordinator at the high school and all the teachers there who teach IB and AP classes. I would say they are definitely dedicating a lot of time to our advanced students. The three TAAP specialists you refer to are the one at MEH, one at TJ, and another who splits her time between TJ and MtD. In addition to what they do, attention is also paid to challenging the advanced students in the elementary and middle school grades by the classroom teachers.

    I believe that it is a monumental mandate to provide an appropriate education for all students, including the gifted, students with disabilities, students with below average capabilities, and the average students. Many school systems fall woefully short of meeting that challenge, especially when resources are limited.

    Our school system does a pretty good job of meeting the needs of all those varied populations. I hope we are able to continue to accomplish that after this budget cycle.

  9. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on February 6th, 2010 12:42 pm

    Based on Ron’s last comment this might be a moot point (since the special ed program will be impacted by cuts) but I’d like to respond to Victoria.

    First of all, just because you’re tired of the argument doesn’t make it a tired argument. Here’s an extreme example – what if there was no public education and everyone had to fend for themselves. Who would be more negatively impacted? The high achievers might not achieve quite as high but the special needs kids would be devastated. This is a bogus scenario but to me it indicates that indeed not all kids need to be treated the same.

    I really don’t get the argument about IB and AP exams. I think it’s great that the City has been able to pay for them when times are good and hopefully there will be options for low income families to get assistance with them in the future. Many families in the City have more than enough money to pay for exams. Where should we draw the line? Should we cover college tuition for all our students as well?

    In case anyone from the School Board or City Council is reading I’ll again mention that I’d rather pay more taxes than go beyond the Tier 1 cuts that were proposed. The Tier 4 cuts would be a disaster and shouldn’t be considered.

  10. Charlie Anderson on February 6th, 2010 8:51 pm

    I wonder if funding for special education will become an issue for the upcoming school board race? There are some strong opinions here – perhaps one FCT poster is considering a run for school board?

  11. Victoria Kwasiborski (Falls Church City) on February 7th, 2010 7:35 am

    Andy, your argument makes flawed assumptions. The first is that you assume all high achieving students are innately motivated, and that all parents of high achieving students can afford and are willing to help their student excel. The second is that you assume the converse for special needs students: all special needs students are innately unmotivated, and that all parents of these students can not afford or are unwilling to help their students excel.

    As for the exams, just as many families in this city have more than enough money to pay for exams, many families in this city have more than enough money to pay for special needs programs. All of us with students in this school system can justly state that we often receive a pseudo-private school education at the cost of a public school education. Why then, in financially challenging times, should one group of students receive more at the expense of other groups?

    Finally, if there is an argument to be tired of here, it is the argument that one is damned if they show support at all for the best and brightest (see the Lake Wobegon comment above), and damned if they don’t show extreme support for special needs students. All we’re doing is debating the merits of the budget process, not which programs should be cut below the required or eliminated altogether. The solution lies between these two extreme positions, in which all programs are subject to equal cuts.

  12. Lou Mauro on February 7th, 2010 2:47 pm

    Ditto again, Victoria.

  13. Kathleen Gerrity/FCC on February 7th, 2010 3:47 pm

    How about considering merging with Fairfax County Schools? Arlington has very good schools and very bad schools. Fairfax, being an outer county, had a much larger portion of very good schools. (Langely is THE best school in the greater Washington area based on SAT scores – beats us hands down – as do several other schools in the Fairfax district. And, it would give FCC residents an equal chance at Thomas Jefferson – the premier school in the nation.

    This city doesn’t have the tax base to support a school system – unless we fire some city employees. Having volunteered briefly with the city, I can personally name at least 3 deadbeats.

    Also, has anyone seen the remodeled, spacious social services offices on the first floor of the West Wing at City Hall? If we’re so rich, why so many social workers? (This does NOT include those working with juveniles.)

    One more comment based on another person’s comment.
    Teachers’ jobs are to teach. Schools’ jobs are to create an environment where learning CAN take place – safe for example.

    Education is a privilege – just ask a kid in Haiti.

    If a kid CHOOSES not to learn then he/she should be removed from school until they are motivated. Are we now so twisted in our thinking that we think teachers should MOTIVATE our kids? Think about it. Do you go into work and tell your boss, “I’m bored, motivate me.”
    This comment is from a person with a kid who lounged through school and is now paying a VERY steep price. I think if the school had read him the riot act, he might have shaped up.

  14. David Wood on February 7th, 2010 7:38 pm

    The Social Services offices are located in 7 Corners. The offices on the west wing you are referring to houses DES staff, Housing staff and Human Services staff. The offices were redone apx 10 year + ago and the furniture is either 10+ years old, recycled, and a couple pieces purchased 5-6 years ago. Other offices revamp on the west wing some 10+ years ago were the Real Estate office and Human Resources. Just want to clarify this. The newest remodeled offices are located on the East wing and were done a couple of years ago. Also there are 2 -3 and even 4 people crammed in the “newly remodeled” space on the west wing.

  15. Jeff Peterson on February 7th, 2010 8:25 pm

    Falls Church may not be able to offer the range of activities that large school systems can, but the most important thing about any school system is the teachers, more specifically the quality of the teachers.

    The article below makes a couple of interesting points…first that high quality teachers matter more than anything else in succesful learning…more than new buildings, or bands, or sports participation or anything else.

    Second, teacher effectiveness varies a lot…really good teachers can manage a class, move test results upward, and cover more material than not very good teachers. (I realize that teacher unions struggle with this idea, but it is pretty well proven.)

    Third, it is very hard to predict who will be a really good teacher. Most of the credentials have very limited connection to the best teaching outcomes. But, it is possible to identify great teachers from watching them teach.

    Fourth, most schools pay teachers based on time of service rather than proven teaching ability….ie; great teachers get the same pay as poor teachers.

    While it helps to have a set of smart and advantaged kids, it seems possible that the quality of FC schools is largely the result of great teachers (our son’s positive experience in the schools for nine years supports this).

    Thinking about the points above suggests that FC has the capacity to continue to provide a great education but that our limited funds should be focused on building the very best possible group of teachers at every level. We should be willing to pay top salaries or more for teachers that have proven that they are the best. At the same time, we need to find ways to either improve underperforming teachers or encourage them to move on.

    One of the good things about being a small school system with a community willing to support schools is that we have the option to give careful evaluation of teacher effectiveness the attention it deserves and to invest in great teachers. Even in a tight budget year, it is a matter of priorities.

    For more info…see

  16. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on February 7th, 2010 9:21 pm

    Jeff, I think you make some great points. I don’t know how the current system works but implementing a program where teachers are rewarded for performance would be great.

  17. Dreamingin22046 on February 7th, 2010 9:22 pm

    Jeff, that was a fascinating article and your points are all valid and well taken. I would possibly argue that the smart, advantaged kids that make up the typical FC demographic plays a larger role than you give it credit for. I think any school system, or individual school, with a school full of smart advantaged kids will also have very high pass rates on standardized tests, will have the money to provide the computers and other materials that help them learn, will have high rates of parental support and involvement which helps kids do well, and all the other pluses associated with those demographics. You would be hard pressed to find a school with those demographics where the students are not mostly doing well, no matter what the teacher’s credentials or years of experience are.

    It also follows, however, that good teachers will be attracted to such a school, as long as the pay is competitive and they are treated right. I think FC schools have a lot of great teachers. I also think that lately some great teachers and administrators have left….retired, moved away, been lured away by “better” jobs, whatever. In many cases they have been replaced by young, untested, unproven teachers and administrators. I am not saying they are not good teachers and administrators, I am saying we don’t know yet. Something like nine brand new teachers at TJ last year. Three fairly young principals (out of four) who have never principaled their own school before. All possibly good at their jobs, but the jury is still out.

    My question is, why aren’t these jobs going to teachers and principals who have proven their ability to be successful by teaching for a few years or principaling for a few years in another system? It seems to be a trend that has developed here over the past few years, and I for one find it odd.

  18. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on February 7th, 2010 9:33 pm

    Victoria, I’m not sure where you came to the conclusion that I think all high achieving students are innately motivated, or that their parents can afford and are willing to help their kids excel – or why you think I think the opposite is true for special needs kids. I’m not even sure how that relates to what we’re talking about – I haven’t mentioned motivation anywhere.

    Earlier you said “the tired argument has always been that since the students who excel will naturally succeed, they’re obviously not at any disadvantage” and it perplexes me. Students who excel are clearly at an advantage over average and special needs kids – that’s’ why they’re excelling.

    I’m still not getting your issue with the exams. AP tests cost $86 and CollegeBoard offers fee reductions for families with financial need that gets them down to $56. Which $86 special needs programs are you talking about? If there are similar item costs in the special needs program that can be pushed back to families then that might be something to look at.

    I also find this argument flawed: “Why then, in financially challenging times, should one group of students receive more at the expense of other groups?” What if my kid doesn’t play in the band or play a sport and doesn’t take IB/AP exams? Wouldn’t my kid be receiving less than other kids? This is how government and society works. By your logic, shouldn’t we all just pay for exactly what school services we use?

    This isn’t a budget discussion – your position is that if one special service is subject to cuts then all special services should be subject to cuts equally. I disagree with that. I don’t think all special services should always be treated the same.

    Lou’s original comment was “shouldn’t all programs be asked to share in the necessary reductions” and it sounds like all programs are – so if you think the sharing isn’t being done fairly I think you should make some specific suggestions. Personally, I have confidence that Dr. Berlin’s proposal was made with careful consideration of all the students.

  19. Gordon Theisz on February 8th, 2010 12:58 am

    Victoria, you are so mistaken when you think that I do not support programs for high achievers. In fact, I do support them and my oldest took advantage of the IB programs. The problem is that not all of our students are blessed with natural gifts to excel in school and the role of the PUBLIC school is to educate everyone. My point has consistently been that we need to continue strong funding for the special education program, so that every child can achieve their full potential. If all of the kids were above average (like in Lake Wobegon), then we could minimize the funding and bury our heads in the sand. But they are not.

  20. Victoria Kwasiborski (Falls Church City) on February 8th, 2010 7:44 am

    Indeed. PUBLIC schools should provide equal levels of service. Ours is a PUBLIC school system without a magnet focus. That means no budget item, required services notwithstanding, should be protected from budget deliberations. The School Board moved into its budget deliberation processes on the assumption that certain services that go above and beyond requirements for a non-magnet school system are untouchable. By definition this will lead to disproportionate cuts in the budget.

  21. Ron Peppe on February 8th, 2010 11:26 am

    Actually, the School Board is looking at every option, and no decisions have been made yet.

    In the past, the practice was the Superintendent presented a budget, then the school board debated that budget. There was often a bit of confusion about which budget was which- there were references to the Superintendent’s budget, then the School Board’s budget, then meetings where references to the two got mixed up. There was also a budget projection by the city and a number that some felt the School Board was supposed to hit.

    We took a step back this year- the School Board has been meeting more with City Council, and leadership of the School Board and Council have been meeting more, so that we all had the same facts.

    We also changed the direction to the Superintendent. The School Board directed the Superintendent to come up with several funding scenarios, and to tell us, in her professional judgment, and based on her discussions with her staff, what changes could we make to achieve difference levels of funding reductions. The prime directive was what changes would lead to more efficiencies, hurt education the least, and preserve safety. There is always room for improvement, but the last two budget cycles focused on reprogramming and efficiencies, so that mainly leaves cuts this time. Even if we try to keep all things constant, some things have gone up due to inflation (snow removal, health care, the pension, which is mandated by state law, etc.).

    The school board spent a work session hearing the suggestions from the Superintendent, and then spent a Saturday hearing from and questioning the Superintendent and staff about the proposals. School board members have also been meeting with and listening to members of the community, including groups like the PTA, businesses, and other organizations, and visiting schools and hearing from staff.

    We also tried to make it easier for everyone to weigh in by making the calendar for both the city and school actions on the budget easily available (you can actually subscribe to a feed from Google Calendar so that you always have the latest on the meetings, if you really want to be plugged in), and we posted (and continue to post) all public comments on the website for everyone to see.

    That brings us to now. The next step is supposed to be a work session Tuesday for more discussions among the board (under VA law, we can not all talk together even via email about it- we have to save the open discussions for in person meetings). If we are snowed out, we may move the meeting to Saturday, so stay tuned.

    The City Charter requires the City Manager to include the school requested budget in his proposed budget, so the School Board has to decide on a number prior to that time. The current plan is for the School Board to make that decision May 2. The City Council then debates, and eventually the School Board gets an allocation and goes back to the decision making for a final budget based on that allocation.

    At this point- no decisions have been made, and everything is on the table, although some things are required by law, or funded by dedicated funding that can only be spent on certain things.

    I hope that explains the process more clearly.


  22. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on February 8th, 2010 4:47 pm

    Ron, thank you for taking the time to detail the process. It sounds like there are plenty of opportunities for citizens to officially chime in on the proposed budget options.

  23. Victoria Kwasiborski (Falls Church City) on February 9th, 2010 7:07 am

    Ron, thank you. The openness and transparency of City documents is greatly appreciated. A couple of questions:

    1. Are the proposed Tier Cuts fixed or fungible? Will they be adopted individually or en masse? For example, will all Tier 1 cuts have to be adopted before subsequent Tier cuts are made?

    2. Would you mind elaborating a little more on what exactly is “dedicated funding” as well as provide some examples? In my world, “dedicated funding” translates into “untouchable earmarks,” and I just want to better understand what you mean.


  24. Ron Peppe (Falls Church) on February 9th, 2010 4:25 pm

    1. The cuts are completely open at this point. The board asked the Superintendent to prioritize, so she grouped then into tiers that would achieve certain levels of reduction, but those levels were arbitrary, and really just a starting point. The tiers are useful to visualize one way of grouping cuts, but the board will look at each item, may add items, and may remove items. We have not defined the specific process of how we sort through and vote for each item, so that will be a point of discussion at the next meeting on Saturday. I realize that process often drives (and sometimes preordains results), so we need to be careful about how we go about this.

    2. Dedicated funding means places where we have certain funding that, by law, has to be spent on specific areas. Some special ed funds are examples- some of the funding can only be spent on that area, and can not go into the general pot. There are some other federal and state programs that fall into this category, and some grant funding works this way. the state or federal government mandate something, and provide funding that can only be used for that thing. Of course, the government also sometime mandate things and then do not fund it, or then temporarily fund it. Special ed is a good example of where the federal government decreed that, by law, certain levels of service had to be provided, but only funded a portion (with a promise that was never fulfilled to eventually fund more). There are other areas, like Title I funding that also have to be spent in certain categories.

    This is one reason that it is important to focus and only chase grants and funding that fit with the strategic plan, especially short term funding that then goes away in a few years.

    The stimulus money likewise came with many legal strings, and requirements that we could not cut certain areas below prior levels.


  25. Karen L. Jones on February 12th, 2010 9:04 am

    Our tax rates will eventually increase to the point where residents will cry Uncle. It looks like we are entering into a double dip recession and stimulus funds will not last forever. Our family is definitely in favor of an Arlington County/City of Falls Church school system merger. The merger could free up Falls Church City funds to enrich the lives of our children (and adults) in other extracuricular ways — e.g. more funding for the library, parks, community programs, and etc…

    The writing is on the wall — or chalk board — Merge Now!

    Karen Jones

  26. Kathleen Nebeker, City of Falls Church on February 12th, 2010 10:06 am

    The dialogue, above, about the city, the schools and the taxes has been interesting reading. Could there be threshold at which prospective home buyers decide to purchase elsewhere in order to avoid the higher property taxes we pay in Falls Church City? Will the city deficit act as a damper on the value of property in the city? Just questions – it’s probably too soon to tell.

  27. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on February 12th, 2010 1:57 pm

    Karen, I’m not sure how merging our schools with Arlington is going to free up revenue. I assume Arlington will expect us to pay them for running the schools. They might be able to run them a bit more efficiently than we can (probably by getting rid of some of our schools and integrating the kids into other Arlington schools) but it’s not like we’ll have a bunch of money left over. And if we do have money left over why don’t we lower the tax rate to whatever level people in Arlington are paying?

    Kathleen makes a good point. It is certainly possible that at some point the tax rate will get high enough that people won’t be willing to move to Falls Church. We’re not at that point yet (or else all these folks would be living in Arlington and sending their kids to school there now).

    As for property values – they are currently elevated over neighboring Fairfax County properties and probably Arlington properties as well – because of the demand for Falls Church schools. If the schools decline, or become part of Arlington, the property values will fall (bringing revenue down and forcing us to further cut services or raise the tax rate even higher).

  28. Lou Mauro on February 12th, 2010 11:10 pm

    Andy, your assumptions about the consequences of a merger with Arlington are no more valid than Karen’s. Unless and until someone in authority seriously takes this issue up with Arlington County officials, everything is pretty much speculation. And hopefully whoever does that will have a pro-FC plan to bring to the table before discussions begin. The problem will be reconciling the differing views on what is pro-FC.

  29. Andy Rankin (Falls Church) on February 13th, 2010 2:11 pm

    Lou, you’re right that I don’t have anything specific to back up my assumptions. One of my assumptions seems hard to refute – that if Arlington ran our schools (or, more accurately, was on the hook to educate our kids – either in our schools or their schools) the people of Falls Church would have to pay something in exchange.

    And this isn’t an assumption: if my kids are getting an Arlington education then I’m not going to be willing to pay more than Arlington taxes so the City’s rate will either have to come down to what Arlington’s is or I’ll have to move to Arlington!

    This is why I’d love to see someone run for Council or School Board with the stated intention of investigating our options for merging our school system with Arlington’s.

  30. J Bowman on February 14th, 2010 6:51 pm

    At Saturday’s City Budget Forum there were many residents who have children in the Falls Church School system. My husband and I moved here to be close to the Metro. We like the City, our neighbors and the City services.
    During the discussions, education (our school system) was listed first on the lines of service. I was surprised to learn that only 23% of the family households have school age children. The school budget is 44% of the general budget.
    It is estimated that it costs about $19,000 per child per year. It was noted at Saturday’s Forum that an additional $12,000 is granted yearly for those students who qualify and attend the T J Science & Technology magnet school. This community has established that all will support and pay for the best for our students! But, these are difficult times for our City. I believe that parents will pick up the cost of programs, if their children will benefit.
    The fluctuations in yearly attendance numbers has been noted as renters coming/leaving in the large rental apartment buildings. On my street, we only have 5 families each with two school age children. Three are renters who plan to be here for two years. One owner prefers a private school.
    At the Forum, we were asked to state our priorities…do we want: police, trash & recycling collection, street maintenance, library, storm water maintenance, top schools, etc?
    There were many petitions being circulated by those interested in running for City Council. There are many decisions to be made….what are our community priorities at this time when we have a $9 million deficit? We need to look at options.