Falls Church City Public Schools have seen steady increases in student enrollment over the last 10 years. Over the last 30 years, the school system hasn’t seen an increase as high as the 4.5 percent bump in enrollment this year.
Dr. Toni Jones, superintendent of the school system, said the growth is not a surprise. Assistant Superintendent Hunter Kimble projected FCCPS would have an enrollment of 2,133, off by eight from the actual 2,145 students in the school system. Jones said a contributing factor in the increase come from the high level of international families and Department of State families FCCPS serves. She said there is not a current international crisis that has caused an influx of students, such as the increase last year with the crisis in Egypt.
“If a crisis should occur overseas that impacts government families, then it is likely that we could see a spike again in our overall enrollment mid-year,” Jones said. “That’s the unknown factor that can never be predicted on a map or chart. It is an aspect of predicting enrollment in FCCPS that statistics can’t measure.”
Jones said the growth is predominantly in grades 3, 6 and 12. The 165 students enrolled in kindergarten are an all-time high for FCCPS. Thus far, the school system hasn’t had to make any staffing adjustments even with the 3.1 percent student increase from last school year.
Patrick Riccards, chair of the FCCPS school board said increases in enrollment signals the school district is a place families want to send their children to learn. He said the growth is good for the City of Falls Church community overall.
“But in current economic environments, increased enrollment is often a challenge,” Riccards said. “As a public school division, we enroll all comers. So we must look at the challenge of increased enrollment as an opportunity. It offers that opportunity to examine how we can do more and how we can do better, even with fewer resources.”
Last year, the , a zero-growth transfer from the city. FCCPS came into the 2011-2012 school year with a not expecting the 4.5 enrollment increase. In that flat budget, Riccards said FCCPS had to address issues such as rising healthcare costs, increased obligations for retirement, and a growing student enrollment. He said FCCPS continues to do more and do better with fewer resources but enrollment projections continue to grow. Because FCCPS schools are such a driver for the city, there is a need to be especially diligent about the investment in public education, ensuring that both do no harm to our current educational offerings but also constantly look for ways to improve and excel, Riccards said.
“Last year, the School Board and the City Council entered a process where we did multi-year budget projections for both the schools and the city, allowing us to effectively plan for the future,” Riccards said. “Both sides worked incredibly hard to determine numbers that were fair and adequately represented the realities in which we operate. Heading into a new budget cycle, those mutually agreed upon multi-year projections estimate at least a four percent increase in the transfer from the city to the schools. That four percent increase is necessary to address the increased obligations such as rising health care costs. As our student population continues to grow, we need to be mindful of our historic per-pupil expenditures and how we can get back to those levels. Our citizens expect a strong, results-focused investment in our public schools.”
Jones said classroom space has been the biggest issue with the two years of student enrollment growth. With an expansion construction project at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School to complete by 2013, there will be more classrooms there. Jones said that would alleviate the crowding issues for grades 2 through 5.
“This year was increasingly difficult to budget a 2-year growth cycle of 7.6 percent with no increase in revenue,” Jones said. “We have worked hard to cut in some areas while finding the funds to take care of our academic needs. We ran out of desks at George Mason and were required to order additional furniture. Aspects such as increased bus routes, more textbooks, paper, and overall operational costs increase with each additional child. I am extremely proud of our administrative team for prioritizing their greatest school needs and making some difficult decisions.”