Arlington Schools Scramble to Fund Enrollment in Challenging Budget Environment

Arlington Schools Scramble to Fund Enrollment in Challenging Budget Environment

$439.4 million budget represents a 3.1 percent increase over last year.

Budget Reductions

  • $1.6 million in reduction of service delivery for adult high-school students
  • $1.3 million to reduce post-employment benefits contributions
  • $1.1 million to eliminate 21 elementary library assistant positions
  • $780,000 reduction in special education classroom assistants
  • $304,000 in reduced health-insurance costs
  • $250,000 in savings from rehiring retirees
  • $190,000 in reduction to Virginia Retirement System creditable compensation
  • $170,000 to eliminate two middle school librarians
  • $160,000 to eliminate technology logistics and procurement coordinator
  • $160,000 to reduce extra day days for teachers during summer months
  • $160,000 reduction in non-mandated field trips
  • $150,000 to reduce instructional and innovative technologies budget
  • $140,000 to integrate two instructional supervisors
  • $140,000 to increase adult education fees
  • $100,000 reduction to redesign of professional library
  • $80,000 in change of model of service delivery for twice exceptional teachers
  • $80,000 reduction in special education coordinators
  • $80,000 for changing the clerical factor for secondary Asperger's assistants
  • $60,000 to reduce professional services

New Spending

  • $1.7 million for integrated reading and support initiative
  • $1 million to expand instructional time at two elementary schools
  • $500,000 for technology infrastructure needs
  • $310,000 to restore high school resource teachers for the gifted
  • $300,000 to redesign summer school
  • $247,000 for four additional bus drivers
  • $240,000 for professional development for teachers
  • $160,000 for International Baccalaureate world languages
  • $90,000 to provide additional SAT preparation options
  • $88,000 for a new special needs bus routing coordinator
  • $78,000 to fund two special education vision assistants
  • $62,000 to fund half of a position for a coordinator of counseling
  • $45,000 to fund half a position for substance abuse counselor
  • $40,000 for professional development for school counselors
  • $190,000 contingency fund for special education classroom assistants
  • $180,000 for legal fees
  • $120,000 for a new budget analyst
  • $110,000 for a new design and construction project manager

Arlington Superintendent Patrick Murphy's proposed budget for the coming school year would scale back a program aimed at helping students older than age 22, add trailers to deal with the crush of new students as well as add four new bus drivers and create a new coordinator for transporting special-equation students. Murphy presented a $439.4 million budget for fiscal year 2015 during a School Board meeting last week. The proposal is about $16 million more than last year's budget, a a 3.1 percent increase. The superintendent's proposal opens a two-month budget season that will last until School Board members vote on a final spending plan.

"There are a lot of tough decisions, and they are not easily made," said Murphy. "I understand that there is a lot of passion and emotion and commitment."

In the coming year, county schools are expected to welcome about 24,000 students, which is more than 800 students more than the system currently has. School budget officials estimate the additional students will cost about $7.5 million, a total that includes hiring new teachers and other school-based staff to service the growing enrollment. Perhaps the most controversial proposal in Murphy's budget is the $1.6 million reduction in services to students who are older than 22, a population that supporters of special-needs students says is one of the most vulnerable.

"This could be something that could make a difference for somebody to be successful in integrating into the community or not," said Heather Alderman, a member of the special-education advisory committee. "I know there are some very hard choices to make, but whether or not this is the right hard choice to make I really don't know."

THE SUPERINTENDENT wants to combine Arlington Mill High School and the Langston High School continuation program at the Arlington Career Center. The reorganization would eliminate 19 staff positions from the budget, consolidating four secondary alternatives at three high schools to one initiative in the Adult Education Program. Budget officials estimate that redirecting adult learning to the Adult Education Program will reduce the number of students attending Arlington Mill by more than half.

"The program is going to look different," said Murphy. "It is going to be much smaller than it exists now."

Another controversial proposal by the superintendent addresses the issue of transportation. Murphy wants to add four new bus drivers, a move that he says would allow the school division to avoid relying on substitute bus drivers. He also wants to create a new coordinator position that would coordinate special needs bus routing, a proposal that some say needs work.

"Our bus routes continue to be, in my opinion, very inefficient. They are very circuitous and they don't necessarily take a direct path," said Donna Owens, the mother of a special-education student. "Just because a child is in special education doesn't mean they need special education. We have more special needs buses than we have a need for, and therefore we are putting kids that don't need it on those buses and I'm not sure that's right."

THE PROPOSED BUDGET would increase instructional time by eliminating early release at two elementary schools to implement a foreign language program in the elementary schools that will cost about $1 million. It would also support a reading program intended to focus on early literacy at a cost of $1.7 million, which will provide technology devices for second and sixth grade students. And a $2.3 million initiative will add three summer school sites, expand SAT preparation, restore high school resource teachers for gifted students and provide contingency funds for classroom assistants.

"This is really just the beginning of the formal budget process," said School Board Chairwoman Abby Raphael. "So we have lots of opportunity to hear from the community."