Fairfax School Budget Targets Raises, Resources

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 13, 2006

Fairfax County School Superintendent Jack D. Dale proposed a $2.1 billion budget yesterday that includes few new programs, concentrating instead on meeting the rising costs of worker salaries and benefits, fuel and maintenance.

Dale's recommended budget includes $30.7 million more than last year's to pay for increased costs of retirement benefits and $12.2 million more to fund health insurance. The district also is seeking $46.5 million to pay for a 3 percent cost-of-living raise for teachers and other employees.

"There is nothing new and fancy in this budget," Dale said. "It's not a time for new initiatives; it's a time to strategically target resources."

Dale said additional funding is needed to help the district -- the largest in the Washington area and the 12th-largest in the nation -- meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. His proposal calls for spending $1.6 million to expand full-day kindergarten to seven additional schools with large populations of children who are poor or learning English and $20 million to increase the salaries for starting teachers and those with master's degrees.

Although Dale said he tried to keep the budget lean, his request is likely to set up debate among Fairfax's top elected officials over how much to spend on educating the district's approximately 165,000 students. County funding accounts for about 75 percent of the school budget, and other money comes from the state and federal governments. The total approved budget for 2006 was $1.9 billion.

Dale is asking the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for $1.6 billion, $141.1 million more than was approved for the current budget. That would be nearly a 10 percent increase. The board has set a 6 percent increase -- $86 million more -- as a guideline.

Fairfax County Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said full funding of Dale's proposed budget is unlikely because the county will have to balance the needs of schools with those of other agencies and services for a growing senior population. He said supervisors also want to reduce the property tax rate to relieve the burden on homeowners.

Connolly also noted that, after years of dramatic student growth in county schools, enrollment has leveled in recent years. But he said he will work with Dale and the School Board to determine which programs are most critical.

"The schools are experiencing virtually zero growth, and we have to free up revenue to provide additional tax relief for our residents," Connolly said. "It's going to be a balancing act."

Although the student population has leveled, Dale said, teachers are seeing more children who are not native English speakers and more children with special needs. Since 2002, enrollment of general education students has grown by 1.1 percent, but there are 28.7 percent more students who are learning English and 7.8 percent more from poor families.

"We have, I think, the premier system in the nation, and we need to maintain that," Dale said.

The school board will consider Dale's plan in coming weeks and can make changes. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to approve a final budget, including the amount that will go to the schools, April 24.

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