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Votes

Public Hearing on School Budget Set for Saturday

Residents to comment on $165 million operating budget.

This Saturday morning, Feb. 5, beginning at 9 a.m. Alexandria residents will have their first opportunity to present their views to the School Board on the proposed 2005-2006 budget for Alexandria City Public Schools.

"Speakers are requested to sign up ahead of time so that we can gauge the length of the meeting," said Superintendent of Schools Rebecca Perry. "However, they also have the opportunity to complete a speaker form upon arrival at the meeting if they have not pre-registered," she said.

Anyone interested in speaking at the public hearing is urged to call Rosemary Webb, clerk of the board, at 703-824-6614. "This meeting usually goes to about noon. But, I have never known one to go beyond that," Perry said. The initial public hearing will be held at school district headquarters, 2000 N. Beauregard St., in the School Board meeting room.

Following Saturday's public hearing, the ACPS budget process continues on the following schedule:

Feb. 10: Board budget work session

Feb. 16: Board budget add/delete session — This session requires that any items added to the superintendent's budget by the board must be accompanied by an equal fiscal item being deleted, according to Perry.

Feb. 17: Board regular meeting at which they will approve the agreed upon 2005/2006 budget. After this action the budget becomes the board's budget, not the superintendent's.

Feb. 18: The board budget is submitted to City Council which is followed in early March by the board-approved budget being distributed to ACPS board members, executive staff, city-elected officials and staff, and the general public.

AFTER THIS, the ACPS budget becomes part of the city fiscal blueprint and enters the city budget process which also incorporates public hearings commencing April 4. These are followed by a joint City Council/School Board work session on April 6. City Council is scheduled to vote on the total city budget May 2.

Of the total $165,219,259 operating budget proposed by the superintendent for fiscal 2005-2006, the city will provide 82.92 percent. This represents a .77 percent decrease from the 2004 appropriation of 83.69 percent, as a percentage of total ACPS revenue. In 2006 the city's contribution is projected to increase to 83.34 percent of total ACPS revenue.

These monies will be used to serve a projected 2005/2006 student population of 10,590 in regular classes from elementary through senior high school. That is a slight drop from 2004 which served a ACPS population of just over 10,600.

Not counted in the regular school population are those in the following special categories: Preschool Special - 222; Over 20 Special - 29; Special Placement - 113; and Detention Center - 60.

With these added to the basic enrollment the total school population being served is 11,014, according to Perry's proposed budget.

The highest regular enrollment in ACPS since 1996 was recorded in 2000 when it reached nearly 11,200. It has been declining slightly each year since then. The 2005 student population is projected to be less than 200 students more than in 1997.

HOWEVER, THE HIGHEST present enrollment is at the elementary school level, K through five, with a total of 5,435 students, more than half the 10,590 regular enrollment total. The next highest is at the middle school level with 2,253 followed by senior high with 2,036.

Ninth grade accounts for only 766 students. The remaining 100 students are recorded as Self-contained Special K-5.

ACPS continues to serve a "highly-diverse student population," according to Perry's budget document. The student body breaks down by percentages as follows: Black - 43.24; Hispanic - 26.73; White -23.32; Asian/Pacific Islander - 6.49; and American Indian/Alaskan Native - 0.22.

As for future enrollment projections, these are forecast to increase by only 110 students through fiscal year 2008 when a high of 10,700 is predicted. After that it drops back to 10,636 in 2009, an increase of only 46 students over 2005.

ACPS's peak enrollment occurred in 1976 when it reached 13,382. There was a significant decline beginning in the late 1980s lasting through 1997. Since that time there has been a slow increase with a short-lived spike beginning in 1999 and ending in 2001. However, ACPS's total student population has again been declining since 2002 when it was 10,979.

Not included in the superintendent's budget is ACPS's capital improvements budget. It is provided under a separate document designated "Approved Capital Improvement Budget - FY 2006-2011."

For that period it totals $107,752,862. Of that amount $75.4 million is allotted to new construction. The major portion of that total, $51.4 million, is earmarked for construction of the new T.C.Williams High School. "However, the grand total for T.C. Williams, when all facets are considered over the various budget periods, comes to $98.9 million," said John D. Johnson, III, assistant superintendent, Financial and Administrative Services.

ACCORDING TO PERRY, one of the primary instruction/organization elements of her proposed budget is an initiative designated "Modified Calendar Expansion to Mt. Vernon Community School." This gained "75 percent support from the community which was what was needed for it to be included in the budget proposal," Perry said.

As explained in that document, "On July 26, 2004 Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School became the first ACPS elementary school to operate under a modified instructional calendar. Under this system, the 183 days of instruction ... are reorganized into four seven-week blocks.

"The first nine weeks are devoted to traditional academics. The remaining two weeks are intersession periods during which a variety of enrichment programs and remedial services are offered to students. Intersession programs and services are provided by a combination of licensed teachers and community members who have specific talents and expertise to share."

Attendance at these intersession classes is required for some students but optional for most, according to Perry. "The initial implementation at Tucker Elementary has been extremely successful," she wrote.

The total cost for continuing the Modified Calendar approach at Tucker Elementary and for initiating it at Mt. Vernon Community School as projected in the 2005-2006 budget proposal is $396,877. The lion's share of that, $239,625, is allotted to teacher salaries and benefits for three two-week intersessions.

PERRY'S OTHER MAIN priorities in the upcoming budget are:

* Establishing the position of testing coordinator at T.C. Williams High School to meet the requirements of the "No Child Left Behind" federal initiative.

* The creation of an academic counselor for athletes "under the leadership of the T.C.Williams High School principal and director of guidance." This individual will be "responsible for promoting, designing and implementing programs to motivate student athletes to achieve their maximum academic potential."

* The allocation of $74,128 for a new full-time district-wide parent liaison "who will assist with coordinating the activities of all school level parent liaisons, will arrange for regular meetings of parent liaisons (located at other district schools) and will serve as a parent liaison for non-English speaking parents in communicating with the schools and the school system and will provide training to non-English speaking parents in how to assist their own children with homework and other educational issues."