The Fairfax County School Board narrowly voted last week to approve a $2.4 billion spending proposal for next school year, tweaking a plan put forth by Superintendent Jack D. Dale but making no net additions or cuts.
The approval kicks off annual budget negotiations with the Board of Supervisors, and the vote — which split 7-5 — signals philosophical divisions that may affect the tenor of those negotiations.
At issue is whether the system should ask for what it thinks it needs or what it thinks the county can afford. Four of the school board members who voted against the schools budget said it was too extravagant.
Among the dissenters was Ted Velkoff (At Large), who said a knowledgeable person once told him that “school boards spend money like a group of drunken sailors.”
“Tonight,” Velkoff said, “I’m going to volunteer myself as the designated driver.”
In recent years, particularly when dollars were scarce during the recession, several supervisors expressed frustration with what they said were unrealistic school budget requests.
Velkoff and other three fellow dissenters — Patty Reed (Providence), Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) and Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) — said they wanted to ask for less to rebuild trust.
County Executive Anthony Griffin said in late 2011 that he hopes the county will be able to increase its transfer to the schools by 5 percent. Dale’s budget, which includes raises for teachers and hundreds of new positions meant to keep pace with enrollment growth, would require a larger jump: 8.4 percent.
Several who supported the budget said shooting too low in the initial proposal undercuts the school system’s chances for getting enough money.
“Tonight we’re getting back to what Fairfax stands for, and that is an investment in education for the future,” said Ryan McElveen (At Large).
“As we approach the Board of Supervisors we have to remember what we’re doing is preparing not just for our current generation of students, but for the next generation of students.”
The amendments the school board made to Dale’s spending plan amount to $3.7 million — or about one-tenth of 1 percent of the total budget — and would be paid for by shifting dollars from elsewhere in the central administration.
• Doing away with $100 fees that students pay to play sports ($1.7 million)
• Hiring 20 additional custodians, positions that were lost during the recession ($1 million)
• Hiring staff for school board members to aid with communication, research and program evaluation ($600,000)
• Studying the schools’ food services program to see if there’s a way to produce and sell healthier meals ($200,000)
• Resuscitating the old Parent Advocacy Handbook, which explains how to negotiate the school system ($100,000), and creating a task force to study early education in the county ($100,000)
• Recording all work sessions and forums so members of the public can hear the board at work without physically attending ($19,590)
Kathy Smith (Sully) cast the fifth vote against the bill because she disagreed with some of those changes.
“These amendments to me focus too much on the school board and not on student achievement,” she said.
Schultz, who as a community advocate fought the previous school board’s decision to close Clifton Elementary School, offered an amendment to reopen the school and turn it into a test site for preparing healthier meals.
Chairwoman Jane K. Strauss ruled that motion out of order, saying it was an issue related to the capital improvement program, not the budget.