Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Meetings

This week the School Board as two meetings. Tonight, Tuesday, we will meet at 7 pm at City Hall. The big item on the agenda is the subject of mindfulness - an important technique for reducing stress in kids. There is public comment.

Thursday morning at 7:30 am the School Board has a joint closed meeting with the CIty Council on the GM/MEH project, followed by an open discussion. The meeting is in the Dogwood room at City Hall. No public comment is scheduled.

Please do come, participate, and send your feedback.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Indulge Me

The first somewhat controversial action I took on the School Board was to decide not to sign the Code of Civility. I believe in civility, but the Code of Civility had some elements with which I disagree. For example, I don't agree that "achieving" consensus is important - instead, I think "building" consensus is of great importance for a community. When there is real disagreement, I think achieving a false consensus by papering over disagreement or using ambiguous words harms the community. Honest communication is essential.
And now, ironically, as we step out of an emotional and controversial budget process, I'd like to call for civility. I am not asking anyone to change their beliefs. Everyone has a right to feel what they feel. I'd only observe that what I value most about Falls Church is its sense of community, which has been tested. My request is we continue to look for common ground, even when we disagree, that we work to share our opinions in a way that invites dialogue, and most important, that we listen.
The proposed FY17 FCCPS (which runs from July 1, 2016 - June 30, 2017) has just been posted.  You can find it here: FY17 FCCPS Budget

This is the budget that the School Board will vote on tomorrow morning at 7 am.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Hard Budget Choices

Last night, May 24, the School Board held ifs final budget work session of the year - work session #11. The budget will be presented for approval in a special meeting this Friday morning at 7 am. What follows below is my understanding of what will be presented on Friday - this is not an official record or the minutes.

After all the hard work and late evenings, trying to decide what things not to do, there is much "good" news: - Mt. Daniel will keep its Assistant Principal- Thomas Jefferson will get a new, additional half-time gifted teacher- No paraprofessional days were cut (in full disclosure, this was my line in the sand - I would not vote to approve a budget that cut paraprofessional days)- The schools will hire 2 of 3 requested new elementary school teachers- We kept the MYP coordinator position at GM (I know this is controversial, but my personal opinion is this was not the time to make a programmatic change regarding MYP)

We reduced budgeted amounts or increased fees in many places:- the amount budgeted for utilities was cut- fees for athletics, summer computer use, and student parking were raised- lawn and grounds maintenance was reduced

And we made some painful cuts:- One requested new elementary teacher will not be hired- Extra pay for teachers and coaches, for activities from servicing as a department chair to supervising after school activities, were reduced by 5%- The "topped out" bonus (which is a new item) for the most senior support staff and administrators was reduced- The raise for leadership (e.g., principals, senior staff) was reduced by 40%, while the teacher raise had been cut by only 20%

I did want to add two other items to the list - terminating the central office lease and moving it to less expensive quarters, and reducing the salary and benefits budget (without cutting pay) because in the last few years we have had a surplus in that specific area. But the view of the School Board, as I understood it last night, was that those steps were too risky or less likely to generate savings. I think the Board's view is reasonable, although my personal view is different.

I am happy to answer questions, and I'll provide a link to the final budget (or final budget for approval) when it is available. If I made a mistake above, I'll correct it.

(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.)

Erin Kelly

The most important news from last night's School Board meeting is that Erin Kelly's appointment as the Mt. Daniel principal was unanimously approved by the Board. I am confident Ms. Kelly will continue to enhance Mt. Daniel, adding her own legacy to that created by Kathy Halayko.
"That the School Board approve the appointment of Erin Kelly as Mount Daniel Principal.
Motion by Michael Ankuma, second by John D Lawrence.
Final Resolution: Motion Carries
Yea: Michael Ankuma, Justin Castillo, John D Lawrence, Philip R Reitinger, Margaret Ward, Lawrence L Webb"

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Final Budget Work Session

This Tuesday, May 24, is the School Board's budget work session #11. Yes, Moses was provided only 10 commandments, but our school board budget work sessions go to 11. (Sorry about the mixed metaphor, but I couldn't resist.)

There is a period for public comment. Please DO COME and contribute or listen. This is likely to be our final work session on the budget for the upcoming school year, although formal and final approval of the budget will likely be on May 31.

I am caught up on budget email, and I think I have responded to all the questions I received. If I didn't respond to you, I apologize, and please email me again at preitinger@fccps.org. I have come up with my proposed list of $912k in reductions that we need to make from the proposed budget, but I will keep listening.

And I want to thank everyone who has commented. Your inputs have been extremely helpful, and I am humbled by the amount of time that you have all put into this process.  

The meeting is at 7 pm on Tuesday, May 24, at the Council chambers at City Hall.

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

A Different Look at School Budget Growth

With the school budget season winding down, and people expressing concerns about school issues including budgets, I decided to take a closer look at school budget growth over the last few years.  In summary, I don't think the school budget is rising uncontrollably.

I decided to compare growth in burden on FCC taxpayers from the schools and general government from 2010 to 2016.  I picked these years because population estimates are available for 2010 and 2015, Falls Church Census, and the approved FCC budgets are also available for fiscal years 2011 (starting July 1, 2010), FY2011 City Budget, and 2016 (starting July 1, 2015), FY2015 City Budget.

I decided to compare burden on the taxpayers from operation of the schools and general government, that is, I looked at the general government's operating budget versus the budgeted transfer payment to the schools.  I looked at general government growth versus City population, and school budget growth versus school population, because those seemed to me to be the key drivers for growth.   Here is what I found.

From 2010 to 2015, the school population grew about 21%.  During the same period (FY2011 - FY2016), the budget transfer to the schools grew 37.6%, or about 1.72 times faster than student population growth.  Sound excessive?

Let's compare the general government.  During the same period the City population grew about 11.5%, and the general government budget grew 28.1%, or about 2.43 times faster than population growth.  That's 41.7% more than growth rate vs. population in the transfer payment to the schools.

Now the caveats.  First, this doesn't include debt service, because those figures were not broken out in the same budgets, nor pay-as-you-go capital.  Second, I included Special Transportation Funding & WMATA, Debt-Financed Expenditures, and Building Safety (Permit Fee Reserve) in the general government budget for FY2015, because those things seemed to me to be part of the general government expenditures (and they were not separately broken out in FY2011).  However, even if you exclude these significant items, the general government expenditures grew 4.7% faster than school transfer payment growth vs. relevant population during this period.  I'd welcome any comments on how to improve this comparison, and if I have made a error.

I certainly don't mean to defend every school expenditure, support all the programs included in the school budget, or suggest that the general government budget is growing too quickly.  But I also think it is important to put school budget growth in the context of the relevant growth of the served population.  Thoughts and comments welcome below or at preitinger@fccps.org!

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

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Budget Work Session #10

I know that title sounds like a great rock and roll song like Karn Evil 9, but it's not. The School Board met list night for its 10th budget work session, searching for reductions from the budget request to make up the $912,000 that the City Council didn't provide.
Many of you attended again, I'd estimate 50 or so, and we again had a lot of public comment. In addition, the four principals were there to provide their vies and answer questions. Thank you to all the members of public and educators who attended and shared your views, or sent in a letter or email. I greatly appreciate your donation of time and passion for great schools.
The best way to look at the reductions under consideration is look at Work Session Packet #10, found here: http://www.boarddocs.com/vsba/fccpsva/Board.nsf/files/A9TU7T7AB87F/$file/FY17BudgetWorkSession%2310.pdf. It lists all the possible cuts that had been suggested, and who on the School Board is inclined to include the reduction in the final budget. Note that the SB members made these selections before the discussion last night, and before they had seen the ideas that others were proposing. So especially for the Orange items at the end - new suggestions - the marks indicating who supports what may not be accurate.
It is quite hard to convey the 4 hours of discussion is a post - please view the video when posted. We spent a lot of time discussing having fewer photocopiers ($28,000), reductions associated with MYP/PYP (based on the discussion, I don't think any of these reductions will be included, except for an $8,100 certification fee reduction FCCPS is trying to negotiate), reducing the budget for utilities, and central office rent. For example, I proposed the largest reduction in that final category - 25% - to be created by using less space or moving the office to a less expensive place. FCCPS is looking at what could be reduced on this item. The school administration is going to work to capture the discussion a new spreadsheet that will be given out to the school employee association advisory committees for feedback.
I continue to seek your feedback, and I will continue to work to respond personally to all the emails I receive at preitinger@fccps.org. Our next budget discussion is in two weeks on May 24.
(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.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Come One, Come All

Tonight, May 10, the School Board is meeting in the City Hall chambers at 7 pm for budget work session #10. Yes, #10. We will continue the process of deciding where to reduce the budget request to meet the funds provided by the City Council.
There is a public comment session, so please do come and speak, or come and watch, as you like. I know many of you are frustrated, but don't be disheartened. While these reductions from the proposed budget are painful, I am convinced we can make them in the least painful way and align with community priorities. I value every input we receive, as do the other board members and schools.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Whole Bunch of Input

Just as a counter of interest, in the last week I think I have sent over 100 emails concerning the budget, mostly in response to public comments. Thank you so much for your sharing your thoughts and ideas. I am trying to respond to everyone personally.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

School Board Budget Work Session

First, thank you all for attending and speaking out at the School Board budget work session last night. I appreciate your commitment to the schools more than I can express.
Second, the meeting was long, and difficult, but I think especially in the last part we made progress toward finding places where we can reduce the budget request with the least amount of pain. For me, the reductions fall into three categories - the hard but clearly necessary, the debatable but least painful, and the to be avoided if at all possible. It's that last category that includes the new positions, or perhaps old positions, that are most at risk.
Prepare to be annoyed at me. I am supporting some likely unpopular items, like increasing athletic fees and student parking charges. I support cutting photocopier lease expenses even though doing so inconveniences teachers. To be frank, my objective is to go as far as possible in trying to keep the new elementary school teachers and para-professionals we need, and the .5 FTE gifted teacher at TJ. As I said before, I haven't yet found a way to keep all three new elementary teachers, but I hope we are down to hiring two and working toward a way to keep a third. That may not be possible, although the Administration came forward with some new items for expense reduction or revenue enhancement last night.
And as I said last night, I don't support under any scenario removing the Assistant Principal position at Mt. Daniel or cutting para-professional days.
Two final notes. We asked last night for the Administration to provide actual expenses for FY2015 and 2016 by line item, so we can look at that (and not just budgeted amounts) in making reductions. We also should get soon, and the public should be provided, the current list of possible reductions under consideration.
Please keep the feedback coming. And what the video when available.
(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.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Budget Session #9

The School Board work session on the budget tonight is at the City Council chambers, not the Central Office conference room, and is at 7 pm. And there is a public participation session. So come if you can, and please do share your view.

Administrative Costs

Good afternoon.  Yesterday I sent the email below to the members of the City Council.  Please don't take this as a criticism of the Falls Church government or a defense of any action or program of the Schools' central office.  My only point is that in a resource comparison only, the Schools' administration is leaner than is normally perceived.

phil

Dear Members of the City Council,

Over the past few weeks I have spent a fair amount of time talking to residents about the Schools' budget and costs, and discussing the perception that Schools' budget is "fat."  Today I took the time to review the amount of resources devoted to roughly comparable administrative functions between the Schools and the General Government.  I offer this not to suggest that the General Government is "fat" either, but to point that it seems to me that the Schools operate on lean margins.

Most notably, adding together administrative costs in the proposed budgets for leadership, communications, HR and risk management, and IT, reveals that the General Government spends roughly three times the amount per FTE that the schools do.  And if you include students and all employees, the difference is more than an order of magnitude.

Of course, this is a rough comparison only.  The  General Government has communication needs for the entire population, for example, and I am sure one could argue about what was included and what was excluded.  This is only a quick analysis drawn from public information and could certainly be improved (and I apologize for any errors I might have made).  Regardless, I don't think differences of this size are without meaning.  

Respectfully, and with 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.)

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Finding $912k

Last Sunday I wrote that I had gone through the line item budget looking for cuts, in order to make the budget which was expected from the City Council – reducing the School Board request by $912,000.  I provided my thoughts to the School Board, which discussed them a bit on Tuesday evening (I was traveling this week).  You can find part of what I submitted on page 8 of budget packet 8 – but two columns were missing – so I am providing what I sent here, in both PDF and native Excel.  PDF: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0ByHfVeOJ8zSuV3JweUI4YWZodzA, Excel: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0ByHfVeOJ8zSuYldXN0ZjYTBFMTQ 

Most important, I suggested cuts (starting from school administration proposals) that avoided the most draconian cuts to in new teachers.  In this set of ideas, we could even keep adding half a gifted specialist to TJ, but we would not be able to hire one of the three new proposed elementary teachers, or the half-time paraprofessional.  (NOTE: you will see the .5 gifted specialist on the list at the bottom, but note that we get to over $912,000 in cuts before you remove that specialist, so that position would not have to be cut, perhaps).

Even if some of these proposals don’t work – and the school administration believes they do not – many of them while painful can be considered.   And painful reductions we will have, in both the schools and general government.  I share these proposals not to cause concern, but because this is the sort of difficult choice the Board will have to make under the current budget.  And if the community wants to maintain current class sizes at all grades, then we will need to find an additional $120,000. 

There is one more critical point that comes out of this analysis.  The most difficult cuts can be avoided if the City Council offers a bit more – about $300,000 or even $275,000 – and can find that in the general government budget.  In my personal opinion, a teacher is worth that. 

Thank you, and best wishes.

(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.)