Manassas passes school system budget

April 12, 2012

The Manassas City School Board recently passed next year’s fiscal $96.9 million operating budget, which includes teachers’ pay raises and an initiative to pay for students’ Advanced Placement tests.

But the across-the-board “step” increase for teachers, which rewards them based on experience and education and also pays initiatives, came from large cuts elsewhere. The School Board had started the budget cycle with a proposal from Superintendent Gail E. Pope that was $3 million more than projected funds.

To bridge the gap, the board eliminated four proposed elementary school positions, cut plans for more summer classes and a choir, and reassigned three elementary school assistants, among other trims, a summary budget document said.

The system also plans to reduce average class sizes to a 22:1 pupil-to-teacher ratio, slightly less than the current average. Smaller sizes translates into budget savings; larger classes that now have multiple teachers would be reduced to just one teacher, board member Sanford S. Williams said.

Round Elementary School, with one teacher per classroom, has “historically done the best of all the schools” on test scores, so board members decided to save money and switch the schools to Round’s model, he said.

School Board members also voted unanimously to dip into the school system’s $6.2 million fund balance, which was carried over from previous years. The school system plans to use $4.8 million to make ends meet.

The fund balance took a “significant” hit to pay for raises and other initiatives, Williams said, but School Board members agreed that teachers needed an increase after years without one.

“We thought it was important to give them as much as we could,” Williams said.

Students taking AP classes and those in dual-enrollment college classes are required to take an end-of-year exam. That initiative is likely to cost about $85,000. But paying for the tests is a city priority. Officials have said they want to improve the schools’ placement in The Washington Post’s Challenge Index, which measures how effectively a school prepares its students for college. Last year, Osbourn High School ranked 174 out of 184 schools in the region.

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