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Votes

Budget Plan Up 25 Percent

Superintendent proposes $491.6 million budget, a $101.4 million increase from the year prior.

A $101.4 million addition to the proposed budget to operate the public schools was a "surprise" for School Board member Warren Geurin (Sterling).

"It was more than I expected, and I'm concerned it's more than the Board of Supervisors can appropriate," Geurin said following the Nov. 25 School Board meeting.

At the meeting, Superintendent of Schools Edgar Hatrick presented the Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 Superintendent's Proposed Operating Budget.

"Some of it can be explained with enrollment increases. Some of it can be explained by increases in Virginia retirement system costs," Geurin said. "Things that are out of our control we do expect to have an impact on our budget."

Hatrick's $491.6 million proposed budget gives a 25 percent increase over the FY 2004 appropriated budget of $390.2 million. "We are knowledge providers. We are in the knowledge business," he said. "What we are asking you to do, what we are asking the Board of Supervisors to do is to continue investing in markedly improving our climate of success."

FORTY PERCENT of the budget increase, if the budget is approved, will cover the cost of opening three new schools and a 9.7 percent increase in enrollment. Enrollment is expected to expand from 40,751 students this year to 44,715 students in fall 2004, requiring an additional 669 new staff positions.

"Student enrollment growth has a huge impact on the operating budget as well as the Capital Improvements Program," Hatrick said, adding that the school district now is considered the fastest growing district in the nation.

Another 16.6 percent of the increase will help the district maintain competitive salaries and to keep pace with inflation. The average salary scale is proposed to move up 4.2 percent for all employees and the teaching scale an additional 2 percent to recognize a 15-minute addition to the teaching day. The compensation is estimated to cost $14.7 million.

Another 34.4 percent of the budget increase will cover federal and state mandatory increases, public safety and technology obligations and maintaining parity among schools. The mandatory increases include:

* Funding the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the Standards of Learning requirements, a cost of $3.4 million.

* Increasing the Virginia Retirement System Rate from 9.44 percent to 13.6 percent, a cost of $12.4 million.

* Reinstating the state's Group Life Insurance premium, a cost of $4.8 million.

"I was surprised at the overall amount. When you look down for the causes of it, you can see where the changes are coming from," said School Board chairman Joseph Vogric (Dulles). "We have to look at the other priorities we have to see what's driving it. Overall, it was higher than I anticipated."

HATRICK PROPOSED $4.1 million worth of new initiatives and continued program implementations, a 4 percent increase to the budget. The initiatives and programs include:

* Adding grade four to the Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) program and expanding the program from 27 to 39 elementary schools.

* Providing the string instrument program as part of the instructional day, now offered as an after-school program.

* Expanding the Parent Involvement Program to all school sites.

* Reducing the secondary class size from 26.6 to 25.6 students.

"We'll have to see the costs of those," Vogric said. "Everything is on its own merit, but I guess it's a matter of determining priority and affordability."

A public hearing on Hatrick's proposed operating budget is scheduled for Dec. 9. The School Board will review the budget in work sessions scheduled Dec. 4, Dec. 9, Dec. 11, Jan. 6, Jan. 8 and Jan. 10 for adoption on Jan. 13.