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Votes

School Board Ready to OK Budget

Revisions decrease class sizes, keep teacher pay raises.

When she took a job teaching kindergarten, Danielle Anctil didn’t expect a fat paycheck.

Anctil, a teacher at Taylor Elementary in south Arlington, just wanted to work with children. But as she worked her way toward a teaching degree, bigger offers came her way.

She worked at the National Science Foundation (NSF) as she worked toward her master’s degree in education. After finishing the degree, she took the job at Taylor last year, and worked at the NSF over the summer.

"They were offering me about $20,000 more a year and a chance to pursue my doctorate," Anctil said. "But I didn’t go to the NSF thinking I would stay. I like teaching too much to be in an office."

Still, Anctil said, when she heard that Arlington schools would be implementing a Teacher Excellence Initiative next year, she hoped to see salaries improve.

Arlington’s School Board members were set to approve a $299 million budget Tuesday night that included across-the-board increases in teacher pay. But those increases are much less than Anctil, and other Arlington teachers, had hoped for.

Instead, the Board made room for class-size reductions in elementary and middle schools across the county, raises for school administrators and a mentoring program for new teachers.

<b>Taking the Initiative</b>

<bt>In the weeks since Superintendent Robert Smith proposed a budget for next school year, School Board members have been adjusting line items in a series of work sessions.

They have cut class sizes, added school-bus attendants, and added to proposed incentives for teacher mentors. Then, in many cases, Board members cut those additions out again. Ultimately, the schools lost $1 million in funds from this year, money budgeted for a proposed $5 million contingency fund. School Board members also cut back by $600,000 on new initiatives for next year.

Through it all, they left sacrosanct the nearly $7 million set forth in the budget to step up teacher salaries across the salary scale. The changes are intended to attract and keep the best local teachers with changes across every step of the salary scale. The initiative moves the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience from $34,297 to $36,281, and the top pay, for a teacher with a doctorate and over 25 years’ experience, from $79,156 to $83,680.

Last month, Smith said the most important increase was across the master’s degree salary lane, covering some 60 percent of the system’s teachers, and pay raises from year to year are augmented as well. Starting pay for a teacher with a master’s degree and no experience goes from $37,920 to $40,000, and top pay in the master’s lane increases from $71,976 to $75,898.

<b>Teachers Talk Back</b>

<bt>But at a public hearing on the budget last Thursday, members of the local teachers union, the Arlington Education Association (AEA), criticized the size of the increases in teacher salaries.

"This budget does not meet the lofty rhetoric of changing the status of the profession," AEA head Katherine Scruggs told Board members.

Anctil told Board members the salary didn’t come close to addressing her concern with salaries.

"I hoped to live in Arlington," she said, a possibility closed to her under the proposed Teacher Excellence Initiative, she said.

The $6.9 million Smith budgeted for increases to teacher salaries is recycled, they said, a proposal from last year brought back as part of the Teacher Excellence Initiative. Jerry Collins, a Wakefield High School biology teacher, served on the committee behind the initiative, and he told Board members he had hoped to see a bigger increase – at least another $3.9 million, he said.

Instead, the teachers said, much of the necessary funding was going to administrators and principals, as a $2.5 million increase in salaries for administrators at all levels of the school system. Those increases should wait for a bigger increase in teacher scales, they said.

But teachers at the hearing did appreciate the steps to increase salaries across the board and looked ahead to the future.

"Thank you for seriously looking at the issue of teacher pay," said Jim Schroeder, a math teacher at the H-B Woodlawn program and co-chair of the teacher-initiative committee. "I hope this isn’t considered the end."

<b>Compromises</b>

<bt>Parents, civic activists and one School Board candidate told the Board the teacher pay increases under the Teacher Excellence Initiative were money well-spent. But they rejected the thought of putting all other needs aside this year.

PTA representatives from across Arlington had voted "unanimously to support the superintendent’s proposed budget," Steve Nixon said Thursday night. But the vote in support of teacher pay increases was by no means a vote against higher pay scales for administrators, said Nixon, president of the County Council of PTAs.

Similarly, Roger Meyer, co-chair of the Schools Committee for the Arlington Civic Federation, voiced cautious support for Smith’s budget, including the Teacher Excellence proposals. "We agree, mostly because we couldn’t come to any consensus about a better pay scale," Meyer said.

Beth Wolffe, who announced her campaign for School Board member last month, echoed Meyer’s sentiments. She praised plans to increase teacher salaries but questioned goals to make Arlington teachers the highest paid in the region. "That just fuels an unending salary war with our neighbors," she said.

Parents praised plans to cut class sizes, and School Board members followed up with even more cuts. Smith’s proposal included one-student cuts in the goals for fourth- and fifth-grade class sizes, and three student cuts in the target size for kindergarten classes.

During budget deliberations, School Board members discussed further cuts in kindergarten class sizes and cuts in middle-school class size.

Board members kept Smith’s proposals. But in the end, they decided that the only other affordable target this year was to fund cuts in core classes at Williamsburg and Jefferson middle schools, the county’s two most crowded.

At the same time, Board members cut new positions for second-language counselors, an outdoor-education specialist at Arlington Science Focus, and cut back on a proposed mentoring system for new teachers.