School Board OKs Preliminary Budget

School Board OKs Preliminary Budget

Final 2007 budget depends on amount of real estate tax revenue from the county.

The School Board has approved a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2007 that is $2.27 million more than the proposed budget Superintendent Robert Smith introduced last month.

The changes the five board members made to Smith’s proposal include a further 1 percent pay raise for school employees, an increase in the capital reserve fund and more reading specialists for elementary school students.

AS PART of a revenue-sharing agreement, the county government gives the school system a percentage of local tax revenue each year based on a formula tied to the student population. Due to the expected drop in student enrollment next year, the county is transferring 47.7 percent of local tax revenue, a decrease from 48.1 percent in fiscal year 2006.

The School Board’s budget is based on the assumption that the county will cut the real estate tax rate by five cents.

For each penny that the board further reduces the rate by, the school system would receive $3.7 million less in funding for 2007. This would require the School Board to reconsider the scope of some of their new measures and pay raises, school officials said.

"We’re mindful of the fact that the revenue situation is still uncertain," School Board Vice Chair Mary Hynes said during the April 6 board meeting.

Following the County Board’s adoption of a tax rate on April 22, the School Board is expected to hold another work session and public hearing on April 25. The School Board will then vote on a final budget for 2007 during its May 4 meeting.

The School Board’s preliminary budget represents a 3.2 percent increase over last year’s appropriated budget, and includes a carry-over of $4 million from a reserve fund.

One of the county’s greatest challenges in the coming year is competing to recruit quality teachers now that neighboring districts have raised the salaries of entry-level employees, school officials said.

IN RESPONSE the School Board members have decided to give all school staff members a 3 percent raise, up from the 2 percent raise Smith called for in his budget proposal.

Gerry Collins, president of the Arlington Education Association, praised the School Board for the increase in pay, but said it still fell short of the rise in the Consumer Price Index for the region, which is expected to be 4.1 percent.

"As our revenue picture becomes clearer in the next few weeks, we would urge you to try and provide a salary adjustment that is competitive with our nearest neighbors," Collins said.

The school system is scheduled to receive an additional $1.7 million in local revenue due to new calculations from the county’s mid-year report, said Mary Beth Chambers, assistant superintendent for finance.

Refinancing and restructuring of debt service will mean the schools will have to pay $1.45 million less than originally expected, Chambers said.

A change in the schools’ spring enrollment projections means that the School Board was able to trim another $400,000 from its preliminary budget.

The board added one full and one part-time reading coach to the payroll, who will not be assigned to particular schools at this time. Parents of Glebe and Arlington Science Focus Elementary School students had hoped the system would fund reading specialist positions that are being lost due to a change in the schools’ population.

"We’re trying to address the need on a more flexible basis with reading support not tied to one school," said School Board Chair Dave Foster. "The [central] staff will assign them as need dictates."

The School Board also increased the funding dedicated to capital reserves by $1 million, in order to offset rising construction costs.

Foster said he was disappointed that the schools’ operating fund had risen by 9 percent for the upcoming year when school enrollment is dropping. Foster voted for the preliminary budget to "keep it moving forward" but said more money should be shifted from operating fund to capital reserve.

"We need all the capital reserves we can when the tags come in on Washington-Lee and other projects," he added.