The Falls-Church News Press put up an online poll and asked a simple question: Do you support the budget recommendations of the Falls Church School Superintendent?
Relatively speaking, Falls Church's school system is tiny, with just 2,049 students spread across two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school. Its administration sends out a morning e-mail announcing spelling bee winners and discussing stuffed-animal mascots. Its current operating budget is $36.9 million — which may sound like a lot, but is peanuts compared with Fairfax County's $2.1 billion and Montgomery's even weightier $2.2 billion budget.
In short, odds are you don't have a kid at a Falls Church City school — but the poll results matter to more than just those parents. The superintendent requested $37.7 million, a 0.8 percent increase over last year, while the city manager said Falls Church is facing a $1.6 million gap that could grow to $13 million by 2016. And as of 9:30 a.m. on Thursday morning, 66 percent of respondents said "No, more spending needed." A significantly smaller percentage — 27 — said more cuts were needed, while 6 percent said "Yes" and 1 percent said "Don't know."
The only comment is from "AmyANorthcutt," who says, "I support a 1 percent increase for our teachers and staff. This is essential to keep our schools competitive in the local market (for faculty)."
This is a struggle all our area school districts are going through: Montgomery says it needs more money for booming enrollment and requests $82 million more over last year from the county; the county shuts them down. The Fairfax superintendent requests a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment and pay raises for his employees, after a two-year freeze; the Board of Supervisors looks at the floor. Meanwhile, they eye Loudoun: Their superintendent is asking for a 3 percent adjustment; how can we remain competitive?
Times are tight for everyone, and school systems like Montgomery and Fairfax take up nearly 60 percent of the county's budget. Basically, everyone's right: More students should mean more money, but if the money isn't there, what can you do?
That's what's so interesting about a poll in Falls Church: Not only is it a microcosm of the problems all our school systems are facing, but this also raises the question of, How much do parents and the community really know about the budget? How much do community forums on the budget help? What should a school system do to educate them, as many hold forums to do so?