School Board United on Budget

School Board United on Budget

The School Board presented a united front on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2003, asking the Board of Supervisors to consider its case at the Feb. 28 joint school and county meeting.

"The school board believes the budget we presented and prepared is a working document and doesn't have extreme excesses," said School Board member Thomas Reed (At Large) about the board's unanimous vote of 9-0 supporting the 2003 budget. The school board voted 8-1 for last year's budget.

"It's lean. It could be leaner, but it's lean," said school board member Warren Geurin (Sterling).

The 2003 budget calls for $355.69 million to fund the district's operating expenses, nearly $10 million more than what County Administrator Kirby Bowers recommends the county support and an 18 percent increase from last year's budget of $291.7 million.

"It's going to be difficult for me to support this large of an increase two years in a row," said Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Mercer).

Bowers proposed local tax funding at $260.6 million, while the school board requested $270.5 million. Local tax funding for fiscal year 2002 was $211.4 million. The School Board presented its case to retain the $10 million at an information session and the second work session the Board of Supervisors held on the county's 2003 fiscal year operating budget.

"These growth numbers are somewhat misleading," Geurin said, adding that instruction costs are increasing and that as students age, they cost more to educate. "Population growth and costs are not equal," he said.

THE SCHOOL BOARD said it already cut $9.4 million from the budget by reducing salary raises from 3 to 2 percent, decreasing new administrative staff positions from 70 to 35 positions and reducing school programs.

The school board presented information to support keeping $10 million in the budget. In fiscal year 2003, the school district will have to provide the same services to another 8.1 percent or 2,786 students at a cost of $23.5 million; equip and staff five new schools at a cost of $9 million; and maintain a competitive teacher's salary scale at a cost of $18.4 million, along with provide $4.2 million for continuing new programs from this year and starting program initiatives next year.

"We made substantial cuts in that our rates of increase are less than what the county is proposing for [its staff]. The board has a month to go through their budget," said School Board member John Andrews (Broad Run), adding he does not support additional cuts to salary raises. "We've worked hard in the past two years to remain equitable with Fairfax County. To go backwards would jeopardize our credibility."

Andrews said 80 percent of the budget is for personnel salaries, and that 95 percent of the salaries are for teachers. "The teacher in the classroom is the most important thing we can provide. I would cut programs before I would cut personnel pay, and that's the choice," he said.

THE SCHOOL DISTRICT'S budget increased 21.9 percent or $63.9 million from fiscal year 2002. Ninety-seven percent of the increase covers a larger student population and maintains competitive teacher salaries, according to the school board's presentation. Expenditures on each student is estimated at $9.57 million, a 10.1 percent increase from fiscal year 2002 when the cost per pupil was $8.69 million. The cost per pupil without opening any new schools is estimated at $9.33 million.

Geurin said he found the joint meeting to be encouraging, adding that the Board of Supervisors could have asked the school board where it plans to make the $10 million in cuts.

"It would have been a different type of meeting," Geurin said. "They didn't ask about further cuts. They asked about costs and how we arrived at costs and what the money's going to be spent for. They didn't ask hard, mean, nasty, ugly questions."

"It was cordial. It wasn't adversarial," Reed said.

The Board of Supervisors will continue work sessions on the budget through the month and take a final vote by April 1 when the tax rate will be set.

"We still need to look at it. Obviously, they've done a lot of work," said Supervisor Bill Bogard (R-Sugarland Run). "I want to make sure we're doing the right thing on compensation. That's the single biggest expense."

Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) said the Board of Supervisors will do what it can to reduce the tax rate to offset higher assessments. "We need to scrub the budget to ensure we cut out of there what we can," he said.