By Thursday night, when School Board members voted unanimously to adopt their proposed budget for the 2004-05 school year, 44 days had passed since they got their look at a proposed school budget for next year — a six-week span that usually firms up assumptions about state funding for the school system.
But with the budget impasse in the General Assembly, there was no guarantee of state funds by the April 1 meeting. "Even with the state crisis we have, I feel fortunate to be able to provide the kind of funding we have," said Board chair Frank Wilson.
Six weeks brought cuts of over $150,000 in the $346.3 million school budget for the next school year. The budget represents a 6.3 percent increase over the appropriated budget for this school year, and an 8.9 percent increase over the budget adopted by the School Board last year. School system projections predict that system-wide enrollment will fall by 175 students next year.
That budget included a cut in kindergarten target class sizes, putting the county-wide target at 22 children in one class. "For the third straight year, we’re reducing kindergarten classes," said Board member David Foster.
The 2004-05 budget also includes $4.6 million for a 2-percent, across-the-board increase in school system salaries, for teachers and administrators; and $641,200 in funding for 11 sixth-grade reading teachers in all Arlington middle schools.
<b>THE BIGGEST CUT</b> from Superintendent Robert Smith’s proposed budget, a $227,400 decrease, came as Board members opted not to fund extra teachers for classes in English for Speakers of Other Languages, as enrollment in those classes declines.
In addition, the Board cut $200,000 in funding for the GEAR UP program, which tried to raise middle school students’ awareness of college. The program was funded by a grant which ends this year. Board members also cut $200,851 aimed at extending elementary summer school hours.
In exchange, they added some $623,000 in expenditures, many of which would have been funded by bond money. Those expenditures would be funded by revenue surpluses that come when county staff conduct property assessments at the beginning of the calendar year, the mid-point of each fiscal year.
<b>BOARD ADOPTION</b> of the budget does not end the fiscal planning process for next school year. Revenue for the school budget comes largely from county tax revenues.
Under a three-year-old revenue sharing agreement, 48.6 percent of tax revenues collected by the county would automatically be directed to the schools. The County Board is set to adopt their budget later this month, setting a tax rate for the coming year and setting projected revenues for next year.
In addition, if and when General Assembly members agree on a state budget, the schools may see some cut in funding.
At that point, the School Board may have to reexamine their budget plans. "This is my 10th budget process," said board member Mary Hynes. "I have never seen this uncertainty about funding."
Still, she said, there’s little likelihood of sweeping cuts in the adopted budget. "I want people to understand, we’re not going to open the whole universe back up" if cuts are necessary," said Hynes. "We have a much smaller pool of things to talk about."
<table border=1 cellpadding=2 cellspacing=0><tr><td></td><td><b>Fiscal* 2004 Adopted Budget</b></td><td><b>2004 Appropriated Budget</b></td><td><b>Fiscal* 2005 Proposed Budget</b></td><td><b>2005 Adopted** Budget</td></tr><tr><td><b>Total Expenditures</b></td><td>$317,911,781</td><td>$325,727,242</td><td>$346,454,062</td><td>$346,302,547</td></tr><tr><td><b>Total Revenues</b></td><td>$321,911,781</td><td>$329,727,242</td><td>$350,454,062</td><td>$350,302,547</td></tr><tr><td><b>County Transfer</b></td><td>$252,010,552</td><td>$264,541,485</td><td>$275,892,398</td><td>$275,892,398</td></tr><tr><td><b>County Percentage of Total Revenues</b></td><td>78.3%</td><td>80.2%</td><td>78.7%</td><td>78.8%</td></tr><tr><td><b>Reserve Allocation</b></td><td>$4,000,000</td><td>$4,000,000</td><td>$4,000,000</td><td>$4,000,000</td></tr></table>
<i>*Fiscal years run from July 1 to the following June 30. Fiscal 2004 ends on June 30, 2004, Fiscal 2005 begins the next day.
**The School Board’s adopted budget is subject to change pending decisions on the county tax rate and the state budget.</i>