Dale Seeks a 'Conservative' $2.2 Billion Schools Budget

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2007

Fairfax County School Superintendent Jack D. Dale proposed a $2.2 billion budget last night for the next academic year, up about 4 percent from this year, that would add full-day kindergarten and foreign language classes in elementary schools.

Dale said he did not add new programs because county officials have warned that a cooling housing market means schools shouldn't expect a hefty increase. Nearly 86 percent of the spending would go toward salaries and benefits for employees; some new funding would serve students with autism and other needs.

"We are being extremely conservative," Dale said. "There are two purposes of this budget: to make ends meet and to meet School Board goals."

The School Board will hold a hearing Jan. 29 on the proposal, which seeks a much more modest funding increase than budgets of recent years. The panel could make changes before presenting the budget to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in April. Supervisors are scheduled to vote on school funding April 23.

Last night, the School Board also took a step toward challenging a U.S. Department of Education mandate to give most English learners reading tests that mirror those taken by their native-speaking peers. Board member Phillip A. Niedzielski-Eichner (Providence) introduced a resolution calling on the district to refuse to give immigrant students tests that educators think they are likely to fail.

A vote on the resolution, which also calls for the system to continue to test students for progress in learning English, could come as soon as Jan. 25. Federal officials rejected Virginia's reading tests in June, and state educators are seeking permission to use the old tests for one more year. That would give Virginia time to devise new tests that more closely match standard grade-level tests.

In his budget, Dale is asking the Board of Supervisors for $1.6 billion, an increase of about 5 percent over the county's current spending level. Nearly three-fourths of Fairfax school funding comes from the county and the rest from the state and federal governments. Dale's proposal includes $8 million that supervisors have agreed to reserve for salary increases for certain categories of teachers.

The plan includes $5.6 million to add full-day kindergarten at 21 schools and $700,000 to add foreign language classes at 16 schools. The budget also seeks $33.4 million to fund a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for all employees.

Fairfax County Board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said Dale's lean budget request takes into account a fiscal forecast he said could be "pretty dire."

"I think it's a good-faith effort on his part," Connolly said. "Dr. Dale could have submitted a feel-good budget . . . but it would have been dead on arrival."

Dale said his spending plan is driven partly by the changing demographics of the 164,000-student school system, the largest in Virginia and the Washington region. School officials estimate that overall enrollment will drop by about 450 students next year and that there will be more poor children and more students with limited proficiency in English.

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