Sunday, February 28, 2016

Another Night, Another Meeting

For lovers of meetings, serving on the School Board during budget season can't be beat! I feel like I should start this post with "It was a dark and stormy night."
Monday night, Feb. 22, was a closed joint meeting with the City Council on the George Mason/Mary Ellen Henderson campus project. The meeting began around 8 pm and ended after midnight. I voted against going to into closed session.
Tuesday night, Feb. 23, was a budget work session, public hearing, and regular meeting. The budget discussion covered any questions on work packet #5, the salary scales for teachers and others, the problem of employees who are "topped out" and don't even get COLAs, additional support for the gifted program for TJ, and central office staffing. More on these issues below.
On Tuesday night VPIS also gave the school a check to pay for a study about installing solar power in a school or schools. Principals Byrd and Harris also discussed the outcome of their discussions about coordinating Middle and High School schedules for next year, to make it easier for students to take courses in either school and to help faculty coordination. Unfortunately, I had to leave before the end of that discussion due to a personal matter.
Saturday morning, Feb. 27, was budget work session #6 and public hearing #4. Interestingly, the main subject of public comment was increasing support for the GMHS debate team. Several people, including two students, spoke, and the kids were spectacular. My high school didn't have a debate team, while a neighboring one did, and I envied my friends who went there.
The budget session was a very productive one, focused on what to add and what to take out of the budget. The main subjects were central office staffing, a climate survey, topped-out employees, the gifted program for TJ, redirecting money to classroom supplies and materials, and the amount of contingency funding.
Nothing is decided yet, and the Board will formally approve the proposed budget for submission to the City Council on Tuesday night, March 1. I will write more after Tuesday, but I'll cover one of the subjects here. There are a very few support staff and administrative personal who would get no pay increase at all this year, and some of them also received no increase - not even a COLA - last year, because they are at the top of the scale due to being with our kids for a long time. Last year these folks actually lost money because their health insurance premiums went up. There seems to be strong support on the Board for paying these folks a small bonus to thank them for their years of service, and the total amount under discussion is relatively small - $19,700. You can see the packet of information and proposals we discussed here:…/$f…/FY17BudgetPacket%236Final.pdf
I also raised questions about Jessie Thackrey tuition, and the amount we spend on technology, but unfortunately these appear questions more for next year than this year. For example, we are in the second year of a three-year lease for the student laptops. In that regard, next year I think we need to undertake a full-spectrum examination of our use of technology.
This will be a very tough budget year, but I hope we can work with the City Council to accomplish some key things, including increasing the number of special education and gifted education professionals, paying our teachers competitively, and improving the transparency of our schools.
(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Budget - Looking Back and Looking Forward

Hi everybody. The School Board held another budget work session on Tuesday, Feb. 16. We spent most of the time going through Work Packet #4, which includes among other things the teacher allocations for specialty areas like Gifted and Talented and Special Education. We also went through the teacher and staff surveys that were recently sent out by the FCCPS Administration. I don't know that it would do a lot of good to talk about the meeting in more detail, but I am happy to answer any questions.

I personally spent a whole bunch of time last weekend going through the line-item budget and making sure I understood the places where there were significant year-over-year changes.

We have another meeting this Tuesday, to discuss budget Work Packet #5. This is a very good one for you to read, and I'd love your feedback. In particular, the Administration has ranked its unmet needs into tiers, on pp. 4-5 of the packet. This is a great document to see the things that are not currently in the budget. If you are going to read one budget document, this is probably it.

Please send me any questions or comments. I can be reached at

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

George Mason Mulch Sale Underway

From the GM Athletic Booster:

The George Mason High School Athletic Boosters Association is sponsoring a spring mulch sale, with delivery on April 2nd. For the 23rd year, student athletes will donate their Saturday to load and deliver mulch to homes throughout Falls Church. This is the Athletic Boosters’ largest fundraiser and proceeds are used to provide student scholarships, end-of-season and Hall of Fame banquets, banners that hang in the Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School gym, as well as big ticket items, including the baseball/softball field lights and equipment purchases.

The high quality, shredded hard-bark mulch comes in three-cubic-foot bags, which sell for $5.00 each. Those interested can purchase mulch online at the Fan Shop. Order forms are also available at the Community Center, Mary Riley Styles Public Library, and all Falls Church City Public Schools offices. When you order, be sure to note where you want the mulch placed on delivery day.

Deadline for orders is March 22. Deliveries will be made on Saturday, April 2, 2016.

Contact: Surbhi Ashton,

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Mustang Athletics Fundraiser

Below is some information on a Mason Athletics fundraiser.

Thank you for supporting Mason Athletics and the Mustang 500 fundraiser!

·         With a $50 donation to Mason Athletics, you are entered in a weekly drawing to win a VISA gift card!

·         A Mustang 500 ticket will be emailed to each person that makes a donation.

·         There will be 30 drawings starting Sept 21st.

·         Each Monday one name will be chosen to receive a $100 Visa Gift Card.  The last drawing will occur at the Spring Sports Banquet and will be $1000.  (People can win more than one time!)

·         Winners will receive an email.

·         If you have any questions, please contact Julie Bravin

Information about purchasing tickets can be found here:

Friday, February 12, 2016

Feb 9 Meeting - School Climate Survey

I apologize for the delay in writing a post on the Feb 9 School Board meeting - it was a busy week.

It was a big meeting for public participation. Nine people spoke and specifically supported the idea of conducting a school employee climate survey, and no member of the public spoke against it. I appreciate the support - thank you.

Commentators also spoke about ensuring adequate pay for teachers, the value of a public meeting on Mt. Daniel, and the importance of hiring an additional gifted specialist for Thomas Jefferson. You might want to review as well the many letters written to the School Board, and posted here:

We talked about many items, but the longest item of discussion was the mid-year update on the school work plan. The updates are highlighted here:$file/Work%20Plan%20STAFF%20Work%202016%20MID%20YEAR%20UPDATE.pdf

Last, reauthorization visits for the IB program for GM and the PYP program for Mt. Daniel and TJ are coming up soon. I am looking forward to hearing those results.

Best wishes, Phil

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

Saturday, February 6, 2016

School Budget Public Hearing

This morning the School Board held a public hearing and work session on the FY17 school budget, from about 9 am - 12:45 pm. It's a bit harder to provide my summary of the session, because we don't spend a lot time making decisions, but more going through the budget in detail. Today we covered the work session packet #3, found here: Budget Work Session Packet #3 This includes:

- health and other benefits, compared to other districts
- retirement
- pay comparability
- sick leave, personal days, and annual leave
- class sizes, and
- supply budgets.

My impression is that the benefits offered by Falls Church Schools are generally in line with the surrounding communities.

On class size, an interesting piece of data is that while there are only 2 core sections out of 175 at MEH that are greater than 24 students, there are 16 out of 185 at GM. The Superintendent indicated this is because of scheduling difficulties at GM.

I am happy to answer any questions. In addition, I'd very much like your review and input on work session packet #4 when posted. It has extensive information about resourcing of specialty areas including special education, gifted and talented, English as a second language, etc. I'll post here when that information is made available, and I'd love your input.

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

Thursday, February 4, 2016

FCCPS Employee Survey

Today the FCNP published my letter to the editor suggesting that the School Board conduct an employee survey to measure job satisfaction and morale, and inform program and budget decisions. You can find the letter here:

Early this year I submitted a proposal to the School Board that it establish policy requiring an annual employee survey. Here is the text I proposed:

Proposed new School Board Policy 8.46:


“At least annually, the School Board will survey all school personnel, including professional staff, support staff, and administrative personnel regarding employee morale and job satisfaction. The survey shall include but not be limited to the level of satisfaction with and feedback on salary, benefits, working conditions, planning time, requirements, evaluations, facilities, management, support, needs, and level and allocation of resources. The survey shall be anonymous and conducted by a third party that shall provide the results to the School Board and the Superintendent.”

Let me know what you think!

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Two Meetings

(These are my personal views and not the official statement or records of the Board. They are not minutes but my personal summary of some of the highlights from the meeting.)

This week the School Board held two meetings – a joint, closed meeting Monday night with the City Council on the GM/MEH project, and a budget work session and meeting on Tuesday night.

Tuesday’s meeting focused on the Budget and Mt. Daniel.  The bulk of the meeting concerned the budget, with the main items of discussion including
-          Gifted and talented education and resources, particularly the resourcing at TJ
-          Teacher pay, the degree of pay gap with Arlington, and what the goal should be
-          Resourcing for other specialty areas, including special education and non-native English speakers
-          Prioritization of requests, including ranking the items to be added or removed from the budget, should the budget be increased or decreased

No decisions are being made yet – just questions asked.  One very interesting document to review is the FCCPS planning factors, which show how the administration plans to allocate teachers and support based on student populations.  I’d welcome input on these.  The document is here:$file/FY17%20BudgetPlanningFactors.pdf

In other news, the Board directed the administration to proceed with the current “2232” process to seek approval of the Mt. Daniel construction project from the Fairfax County Planning Commission.  The suggestion had been made by Fairfax County officials that Falls Church apply for a “Special Exception,” which is the process used for private schools and other private exceptions to normal zoning.  A special exception allows Fairfax County to place restrictive conditions on the use of a site, which in my personal view would be unworkable for Mt. Daniel.  Undertaking that process would also cause further delay.

Finally on Tuesday, the Board signed a proclamation declaring Feb. 1-5 as School Counseling week.  Congratulations, counselors!

In the joint meeting with the City Council on Monday, I suggested that the Board limit the length of the closed session to a time certain, such as an hour.  That suggestion was not taken up.  The School Board then voted 6-1 to go into closed session – I voted “no” not because I think a closed session is improper, but because there was no limit on the length of the closed session.  The closed session then lasted for about three hours.

That’s it for now.  Please let me know if you have any questions or comments!