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Fairfax Considers 'No Child' Budget

Dale Seeks Millions To Satisfy U.S. Law

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 14, 2005; Page B01

Fairfax County School Superintendent Jack D. Dale proposed a $1.9 billion budget yesterday that includes programs intended to help schools meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The proposed budget calls for $2.2 million to hire 24 instructional coaches who would help teachers at underachieving schools come up with innovative ways to boost student performance. It also includes $5.2 million to create a standardized testing system to track each student's progress and $1.2 million to hire specialists to help teachers analyze that data and pinpoint problem areas.

Superintendent Jack D. Dale has proposed a budget 9.7 percent higher than last year's. (Larry Morris -- The Washington Post)

Live Discussion with Jack Dale
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The budget, presented to the School Board last night, highlights one of the new superintendent's most important jobs as well as his most significant action since being hired last spring.

The cost of educating Fairfax County's 163,830 students for a year is just shy of the estimated price tag for National Harbor, the complex of retail, residential and commercial space being built on the Potomac River in Prince George's County. The Montgomery County superintendent has proposed a $1.7 billion budget for about 141,000 students.

Dale said the programs he is advocating reflect demands of the sweeping 2001 federal No Child Left Behind law, which has forced educators to target resources to each student's specific needs.

"Teaching is more and more driven by what an individual child's need is in the classroom," he said. "Up until No Child Left Behind, the expectation was to provide equal access for all children. Under No Child Left Behind, the expectation is to provide equal outcomes."

The superintendent's budget could set up weeks of debate among Fairfax's top elected officials over how much to spend on the nation's 12th-largest school system. Dale is asking the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for $128 million more than was approved for the current budget. That would be a 9.7 percent increase. So far, supervisors have promised about $90 million more, which amounts to 6.8 percent. County funding accounts for about 75 percent of the school budget.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said he thinks his colleagues agree that "the 6.8 percent guideline is pretty firm." The county board must balance the needs of many agencies as it also seeks to lower property taxes, he said.

Dale said he believes the increase recommended by the supervisors "is not sufficient to continue providing an excellent education for all our families." However, he drew up an alternative budget based on the county's suggested increase, which eliminates many of the programs aimed at bolstering performance under No Child Left Behind.

One would earmark $5.2 million to create a database of test questions to help predict student performance on Virginia's Standards of Learning exams, used to measure achievement under the federal law.

Dale said struggling students must receive extra help immediately because the benchmark scores for meeting the requirements of No Child Left Behind will increase this year.

In past years, 61 percent of students needed to pass standardized English tests and 59 percent were required to pass a standardized math test for a school to make sufficient progress. This year, 70 percent of students must pass each test.

Recruiting and keeping highly qualified teachers is key to the district's success, Dale said, and his budget includes $43.2 million for a 3 percent cost-of-living raise for all employees. It also calls for $4.4 million for salary-scale increases, including boosting the starting salary for teachers.

If Dale's plan is approved, a starting teacher's salary would increase from $36,887 this year to $38,692.

The budget also include funds to expand all-day kindergarten and money for start-up costs for the south county secondary school, to open in September.

Dale also stressed that in an effort to avoid the traditional budget bickering between school officials and supervisors, he has met with each supervisor.

He and Connolly also have met twice with some School Board members and supervisors to further discuss the budget.

In other business, the School Board selected Phillip A. Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence) as its new chairman, succeeding Kathy L. Smith (Sully).

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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