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Arlington Public Schools Know What to Do with All That Money

Taxpayers in Arlington County wondering why their property taxes are rocketing out of sight need look no further than a recent report on staffing in Virginia’s school districts published by the Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute (requires Adobe). The report looks at the relationship between instructional personnel in a school district and student enrollment. In its introduction, the report notes: “In an efficient budgeting process, taxpayers would expect school staff positions to increase when student enrollment goes up and . . .expect school staff positions to decline when student enrollment goes down.” That is not what the data shows, however. For the eight fiscal years 1997 through 2004, 56 of Virginia’s school districts had more students while 74 school districts had fewer students (one district had no change at all). During the eight years, though, 125 of Virginia’s school districts had more instructional personnel (includes principals, teachers, teacher aides, guidance counselors, and librarians) while only 6 had fewer. So where did Arlington come out in this analysis. All of Northern Virginia’s school districts fell into the “more students, more personnel” category, but Arlington came out worst. Arlington had 748 more students, but employed 625 more instructional personnel. On the other hand, Fairfax County had 17,760 more students, but employed 3,643 more instructional personnel while Loudoun County had 18,780 more students, and only 2,185 more instructional personnel. Since each one of those instructional personnel costs Arlington taxpayers about $65,000 in salary and benefits, it’s important that Arlington tax dollars be used as productively as possible. This study raises questions as to whether Arlington taxpayers are getting their money’s worth. Additional detail is available in the district data tables (Adobe required). Unfortunately, the comparison gets even worse when one looks at recent county data. According to Arlington County's fiscal year 2006 adopted budget (page 557; Adobe required), which just started, schools enrollment is up by 486 students since FY97, but there are 603 more full-time equivalent employees.What a money pit!