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Furlow Takes Over as School Board Chair

Top issues will be teacher pay, state funding.

Summer vacation is only two weeks old, but Arlington School Board members got a head start on the new school year Monday morning.

Mary Hynes passed the reins of Arlington’s School Board over to Elaine Furlow on July 1, in the traditional morning meeting that marks, for the board, the beginning of the 2002-2003 school year. Board members voted unanimously to elect Furlow as chair. Frank Wilson, beginning his 19th year on the board, was elected vice-chair.

Furlow began her tenure by noting the recent Supreme Court decision approving the use of school vouchers to fund private schools in Cleveland. "The Board now moves forward in unsettled times, challenging times," as they waited to see if the court’sdecisions had effects in Arlington or in the Washington region, she said.

"Regardless of how those issues play out," Furlow said, "we already have a full workload as we begin a new year."

<b.THIS YEAR,</b> board members implemented $6.9 million in across-the-board salary increases for Arlington teachers, the first phase of a Teacher Excellence Initiative.

The second, and more controversial, phase will come before the board this year: whether to put in place a salary system linking raises with performance increases.

"We’ll be pushing ahead this year, looking at whether there are fair and workable ways to provide differentiated compensation," Furlow said, for teachers at the same salary step.

Teachers involved in planning the Teacher Excellence Initiative have criticized the possibility of performance-linked pay, which they said could open the door to linking pay directly to standardized test scores.

When school board members last discussed the proposal, in November, they asked the committee examining proposals for the initiative to look at using a variety of factors to determine teacher performance, including test scores, but not limited only to scores.

<b>INCREASED STATE FUNDING</b> for education would also loom large for the board this year, Furlow said. She hoped the board would make progress this year in pushing the General Assembly to restructure state guidelines to fund local school systems.

The issue has long been a priority for Northern Virginia school boards, which hoped to see changes in the state’s educational funding plans this year with the election Gov. Mark Warner. Those hopes were put on hold, however, as the economic shortfalls facing the state became apparent at the beginning of 2002.

Next year, Furlow said, Arlington’s board members will join with other school boards and elected officials to push for adequate state funding for education. "We’re going to work to get a boost," she said.

Del. Karen Darner introduced a bill during this year’s Assembly session that would have made wholesale changes in the way the state funds local school systems, but the bill was sent to committee, rather than seeing action this year.

Continuation can be the death knell for a bill, Whipple said, but it doesn’t have to be. "That can be a polite way of killing things," she said. "But sometimes it’s really a way to take more time for study and attention."

<b>HYNES, STEPPING DOWN</b> as chair, pointed to issues just as weighty as performance pay and state funding that the board considered on her watch. "It seems a little overwhelming looking back," she said.

Three major efforts stood out in the board’s accomplishments over the last year, she said: adoption of the first phase of the Teacher Excellence Initiative; an agreement with the county providing better, earlier guidelines for the school budget; and a bond request, coming to voters in November, that would fund much needed improvements to nine schools and begin plans for future work.

The Teacher Excellence Initiative made Arlington teachers among the best paid in the region at almost all levels of experience, and included plans for future improvements to teacher pay and other benefits.

A revenue-sharing agreement between the schools and the county, allotting 48.6 percent of tax revenues to education, makes the budget process more transparent, she said, as taxpayers will know ahead of time how much of their money will go towards education.

"It also avoids the disagreements that characterize the end of the budget process," she said, because it allots money from the beginning of the process, letting both the School and County boards know how much money they are dealing with.

But Hynes’ term also included Sept. 11 and its aftermath. That made her proudest of her affiliation with Arlington Public Schools, she said.

"In the aftermath," she said to Superintendent Robert Smith and his staff, "you never lost focus on the kids."