Schools Delay Projects

Schools Delay Projects

Reed Project extension helps make $1.2 million budget adjustment; Yorktown lights still worry neighbors.

Decisions on government budgets usually mean public arguments, or at least some public comment. But by the time school board members met for their meeting Thursday, May 8, the decisions had already been made.

Board members needed no discussion to arrive at unanimous approval for the $323 milion fiscal 2004 budget. The figures approved last week adjust for new financial estimates, and for the County Board?s decision to drop the real estate tax rate by 1.5 cents.

Under a revenue-sharing agreement, schools receive 48.6 percent of county funds each year, so the tax cut automatically lowers school funding. The net loss came out to $1.2 million.

Board members reallocated funds to make up the difference without cutting into teaching programs. The largest adjustment was delaying $651,000 in funding for construction on the Reed library project for another year. Renovation of the facility, funded by both the county and the school system, is expected to move forward in 2005.

Changes in debt service payment plans account for another $400,000. Next year fewer students than previously expected will attend the regional Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, saving Arlington schools $64,600.

Other budget adjustments include a $373,306 reduction to previous salary estimates, a $126,300 increase in county contributions to retirement funds and a $146,952 increase over previous estimates of grant expenditures.

BOARD MEMBERS were set to vote on whether or not to light new tennis courts at Yorktown high school next year, but new information rendered the question moot.

They had anticipated a change in girls and boys tennis schedules by the Virginia High School League, which would be in place next spring. That change would mean Arlington high schools would need more practice time and courts. But last week, VHSL officials decided not to go through with the change.

Why did VHSL officials change their minds, school board members asked Superintendent Robert Smith. He speculated that ?Fairfax raised a ruckus,? and changed minds in Richmond.

The schedule change could still happen, but no earlier than the 2005 season. (See story in Sports, page 19) Board members decided to delay a decision, and told school staff to spend more time considering the use of Williamsburg Middle School courts if the boys and girls seasons are consolidated.

Some residents of the neighborhood surrounding Yorktown are still nervous. ?If these courts are lighted, it will make our lives miserable,? said Melissa Stricker, who lives on North Greencastle Street directly across from the proposed courts.

?I think all we?re doing at this point is asking staff to explore another option,? said Board Chair Elaine Furlow.

NEXT SCHOOL BOARD meeting, board members will vote on a proposal for a new Focus Program and Exemplary project at Abingdon Elementary School. The program, titled ?Gaining Instruction, Fostering Talents,? is intended ?to develop a community of learners by extending the instructional time and broadening the daily educational opportunities for all members of the Abingdon community.?

The program will provide instrumental music instruction for all students and staff members, provide special interdisciplinary classes like architecture and journalism, provide extra after school instruction and will create a summer reading clinic in partnership with the University of Virginia. It will also increase time spent in school by 90 hours, by eliminating most early-release Wednesdays from the school year.

Marjorie McCreerie, the Arlington Education Association?s executive director, expressed concerns about not cutting into teachers? planning time with extra instruction.

Stephen Utley, a teacher at Abingdon, says the program will benefit all students but will especially help with efforts to eliminate the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students. The school board will vote on the program Thursday, May 22.

In the past, Abingdon hosted one of two immersion programs in south Arlington elementaries, along with Oakridge. But next year, those programs will be consolidated in the Claremont Immersion School.