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School Board Mulls Budget Plan With Full-Day Kindergarten, 1 Percent Employee Raises

Members will consider plan at work session Monday

School board members will consider Superintendent Jack Dale's approved $2.2 billion budget plan, which includes implementation of full-day kindergarten at all Fairfax County elementary schools and a 1 percent compensation increase for teachers, at work sessions and public hearings next week.

At the board's Thursday meeting, where Dale presented the budget, board members said they were satisfied with the plan but still concerned they could not give a 2 percent raise to all teachers, a commitment the board had made in its initial budget proposal in February.

"I thought this was a very good budget, and it was something that reflected the discussions we've had all along about full-day kindergarten and employee compensation," said Patricia Reed (Providence District). "But I also want to put down a challenge that as far as I'm concerned, we haven't put our pencils down and I'd like to see if we can find anymore money for our staff anywhere. ... They are our most precious resource."

Dale had previously at a work session May 2 to balance the advertised budget, after the school board did not receive the $48.8 million more it had requested from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. The fiscal year 2012 approved budget includes Dale's recommended "Option A."

That plan includes implementing full-day kindergarten at the 36 elementary schools without it for the 2011-12 school year at a cost of $8.2 million; a 1 percent market-scale adjustment and step increases for employees for $17.9 million; and an additional $500,000 for reform of the system's disciplinary process, a plan that will be unveiled at a work session scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday.

"As everyone knows, or [I] hope they know, is we've put this budget together to reflect the board's priorities, which has been on the core academic areas," Dale said. "And most recently, of course, the number one priority has been to compensate our employees and get our salary improvement back on schedule."

As part of his presentation, Dale pointed to enrollment increases as the most worrisome budget consideration in the coming years. FCPS has had an enrollment increase of 13,334 students since 2007.

"As a percentage, we are not growing as rapidly as some of our neighbors, but as raw numbers, we are," said Dale, showing a chart of the downward trend in how much the system is able to spend per pupil. "And raw numbers, of course, are what drive the budget increase."

At-large member Jim Raney expressed concern for the 2013 budget based on Dale's presentation, which  showed a $21.3 million decrease in revenue because of the loss of the federal Education Jobs Fund and undetermined increases in expenditures, based on an enrollment increase of about 2,000 students.

"I'm wondering if we're going into this fiscal 2012 recommended budget with a hidden assumption, that assumption being that the Board of Supervisors next year will give us a substantial transfer above the level transfer," Raney said.

He suggested the school board go ahead with implementing full-day kindergarten this year, but if a higher transfer does not come from the county, cutting all programs to half-day kindergarten might be a worthwhile consideration.

"That would free up a whole lot of elementary school classrooms to accommodate the new students and take the pressure off our capital improvement program budget, while saving us approximately $33 million of operating money next year," he said.

Sandra Evans (Mason District) asked Dale and the board to consider looking into how to help teachers cut down on the amount of time they spend at work each week.

"If we cannot [find more compensation], I also think that it's important that we look at the other workplace issues that are so important to our teachers and our employees," she said. "If we can't pay our employees the full 2 percent, then perhaps we can do something more for them in the workplace on time."

Dale said he has been talking with the teacher associations about how to address the problem, and he expects a proposal from them in the next few weeks.

Public hearings on the budget plan are scheduled for 6 p.m. May 17 and 18, then another work session is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 19. The budget will be formally adopted May 26.

Members Tina Hone, Brad Center and Stu Gibson were absent from Thursday's meeting.

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