Superintendent Rebecca Perry calls it a "plug number," how much money the administration needs from the city to meet all of its obligations and fulfill every request. According to a preliminary budget forecast she presented to School Board members last week, the schools would need a 16-percent increase in the city's appropriation to maintain existing services and add several new initiatives, raising the city's share of the cost of the school system from $150 million to $174 million.
"This is not our budget. It's just a forecast, and I can't stress that enough," Perry told School Board members during a work session last week. "Obviously, we're going to have some choices to make."
The preliminary forecast included the rising cost of fuel and health insurance, as well as a $500,000 contingency fund to cover expenses associated with the move to a new high school facility next summer. The forecast also had $5 million of requests from School Board members, including $150,000 worth of shoes for athletes, $116,000 for a new assistant principal at George Mason Elementary School and a new $1.3-million literacy initiative for the city's two middle schools.
"I think a lot of people are going to ask a lot of questions as to why this is the forecast," said School Board member Claire Eberwein after the meeting. "And I suspect that the target City Council gives us won't be anywhere near 16 percent."
The Old College Try
High school students who took college-level classes last year scored better than the previous year, although scores in some classes were down. The 454 Advanced Placement students who took 946 tests in 2006 scored 8 percent higher than students in 2005, according to a report from the school system's department of monitoring and evaluation.
"The College Board rules permit students to choose whether or not to sit for the exam," wrote Monte Dawson, executive director of the department, in a review of the scores. "However, a change in ACPS requirements for students enrolled in AP courses raised the stakes for students beginning in the 2005-05 school year. The School Board agreed to cover the cost of the tests and students were required to sit for the AP test upon course completion."
The numbers show that Alexandria students are responding positively to the increased pressure. Dawson's report showed that students scored the highest in Physics and German, with 100 percent of the students passing the test for college credit. Classes with the lowest scores included United States History, with 32 percent of the students passing, and Computer Science, with only 14 percent of the students passing the test.
"Fewer students took more tests and made better grades,” Dawson told School Board members last week when he presented the report.
If It's Friday ...
The school system's food-service personnel were honored last week as the School Board passed an official proclamation recognizing "National School Lunch Week." The text of the proclamation recognized the schools' Food and Nutrition Service as being "dedicated to providing nutritious, tasteful meals to ensure the well-being of our city's children."
Food-service workers were presented with the official proclamation as they smiled for the cameras. Just as they were leaving, School Board member Yvonne Folkerts asked an important question.
"What's for lunch tomorrow?" she asked.
"Pizza," they all responded in unison.
"Of course," Folkerts said. "Friday is pizza day."
Statistics can be revealing, but they can also be misleading. According to school officials who collect data on truancy, statistics indicating truancy reveal only part of the story. They say that their attentiveness and follow-through has given them higher numbers than other local jurisdictions that don't work as hard to reach every student who misses six or more school days.
"In other words, no good deed goes unpunished," said Superintendent Rebecca Perry during a discussion of truancy during last week's School Board meeting.
According to statistics from the Virginia Department of Education, Alexandria had 799 truancy conferences in the 2004-2005 school year. For a division with 11,000 students, that seems like a lot, especially compared to Arlington's 275 conferences for 19,000 students and Fairfax County's 1,129 conferences for 165,000 students.
"We're diligent in scheduling these conferences with parents when students don't show up to school," said Terry Wright, a truancy outreach specialist with the school system. "We're addressing our truancy while other jurisdictions may not be."