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Arlington School Board Approves Budget With $14 Million Gap

At ARLnow.com today, Chris Teale reports that "Arlington Public Schools’ preliminary FY 2018 budget has an $11 million gap in funding after the School Board approved its proposal last night."

Teale continues:

"The budget now stands at just over $614 million, down from Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s initial plan of $617 million.

"County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed additional real estate tax hike, in part to help fund schools, would likely make up the shortfall in county funding. The state has also kicked in an additional $78,000 to help with construction projects.

“What we’ve done with our budget is taken it to the point where it fits with what the county manager has proposed to the County Board,” said School Board vice chair Barbara Kanninen. “We’re looking at the county manager’s proposal as his sincerest effort to do what’s needed at the county level. We hope the County Board sees it that way.”

"During Thursday’s meeting, members found savings by again tweaking the budget plan. Savings include $1.8 million on technology, adding a transportation planner and removing a School Board staff member. Various other job cuts would only take effect if the County Board does not provide the extra money.

"Board members emphasized that the savings on technology do not relate to the controversial one-to-one policy of giving each elementary student an iPad. Leslie Peterson, assistant superintendent for finance and management services, said that instead the savings have come through looking at the school system’s procurement of contracts.

"School Board member Reid Goldstein said staff and elected officials have worked tirelessly to bring the funding deficit down from more than $20 million. He said that even with the efficiencies found, the budget plan balances educating students with fiscal responsibility."

Teale also reported that "School Board members presented the budget plan to the County Board earlier today;" the story includes a number of embedded links that readers might want to follow. At the moment, there are 41 reader comments.

In his Right Note column yesterday, Mark Kelly offered two controversial ideas for the APS budget, one of which was to scrap the so-called Revenue Sharing Agreement (RSA). Because of the RSA, the Schools receive "an arbitrary 46.5 percent" of county tax revenues. According to Kelly:

"So instead of writing a school budget to an arbitrary 46.5 percent share of revenue, APS should write a budget based on demonstrable needs.

"This approach could result in the school receiving a larger share out of the annual budget in some years. It might mean they no longer automatically receive a share of closeout funds, which would take away an administration slush fund.

"This line of thinking would certainly require a closer relationship between the County Board and the School Board. It also would shine a brighter light on the APS budget, by requiring another layer of accountability for its spending."

When the Superintendent presented his proposed FY 2018 budget in February, it included a budget gap of $14 million ($603 million of revenue and $617 million of expenditures). However, he proposed only $12.2 million of reductions, "tiered" at that. If the County and Schools are going to have a RSA, shouldn't the Schools be required to live up to it? Budget documents are available at the Schools FY 2018 budget development page.

If the County was to provide the School Board with the full $14 million, that would equate to about a two-cent increase just for the Schools. But, remember, when the County Board voted to advertise a 2-cent increase in the real estate tax rate, the thinking was that 1-cent would go to WMATA and the second 1-cent was for the Schools.

The only document available for this morning's meeting of the County and Schools Boards is this PPT presentation. The presentation points out the "County provides other services to the Schools costing in excess of $7 million each year." This includes school resource officers, school health nurses, clinic aides and crossing guards. The County presentation also points out, "As APS enrollment grows, so does the demand for DHS services," e.g., for every 1,000 APS students, 87 children receive monthly WIC services.

One final point from the County's PPT presentation is worth noting. Since FY 2013, the School Transfer has increased 21.3% while the County General Fund has only increased 16.2%. That brings us to the second "controversial idea" in Mark Kelly's Right Note column yesterday:

"Arlington’s enrollment is increasing. However, the growth has slowed down over the projections from a couple years ago. As Arlington works to deal with the uncertainty in increasing enrollment to determine the construction of new buildings, the community should give school administrators some room to make commonsense decisions in the short run.

"Superintendent Patrick Murphy included increasing the ratios by one student per classroom as a way to find budget savings in this year’s budget proposal. Based on how the community has reacted in the past, the idea will almost certainly be shot down again.

"This issue simply causes reflexive reactions from people who have been conditioned to think that any increase in ratios will have a devastating impact on educational outcomes. However, academic studies have not always backed up this view."

Growls Readers: In case you didn't speak at last week's budget and tax hearings, it's not too late to make your opinion about the FY 2018 budget known to the Arlington County Board. So make your voices heard:

  • Second, you can contact the Arlington County Board with any relevant comments or questions about the County Manager's proposed FY 2018 budget. Just click-on the following link to send the Board a message:
- Write or call the Arlington County Board via e-mail, or
  • Third, call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130.

And tell them ACTA sent you.

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