School Budget Speaks to Needs, Goals

Teacher Susan Kaplan checks the work of students. Mantua's principal says Italian lessons are popular with students, teachers and parents.
Teacher Susan Kaplan checks the work of students. Mantua's principal says Italian lessons are popular with students, teachers and parents. (Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post)
By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 25, 2007

Marina X. Afentakis greeted a third-grade class at Mantua Elementary School with a hearty "buongiorno" one morning recently.

"Buongiorno, signora," the students replied in unison.

The class, which has been tracking the sunrise and sunset each day, reviewed the lesson with Afentakis, this time speaking only Italian. The students recited the days of the week and learned the Italian word for clock, "orologio."

"Che ore sono?" Afentakis said, asking the students the time as she held up a clock with the big hand at 12 and the little hand at two.

"Sono le due," said Evan Mahone, 8, earning a "bravo" from the teacher.

Adding foreign language classes, such as those at Mantua, at more elementary schools is among the few recommended expansions in Superintendent Jack D. Dale's $2.2 billion proposed budget, which he presented to the School Board this month. Dale has said he worked to keep the budget lean because the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors warned that a cooling housing market means schools should not expect a significant boost in funding.

Dale is seeking more funding for some programs intended to help meet the School Board's new student goals, which include graduates being able to speak two languages. Dale proposed $700,000 to add foreign language programs in 16 elementary schools and $5.6 million to expand full-day kindergarten. He said he was disappointed to recommend only a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for employees.

"I am proud of having a fairly close and austere budget and being able to accomplish many of the board goals," Dale said. "But I think the one piece that we are missing is being competitive in the marketplace."

The School Board will hold a public hearing Monday on Dale's budget plan. The panel could make changes before presenting the budget to supervisors in April. Supervisors are scheduled to vote on school funding April 23.

The bulk of school funding in Fairfax, nearly three-fourths, comes from the county and the rest from the state and federal governments. Dale is asking supervisors for $1.6 billion in fiscal 2008, an increase of about 5 percent over 2007. That includes $8 million that supervisors have agreed to reserve for salary increases for beginning teachers and those who earn advanced degrees.

Although the budget season often sparks contentious debate between the School Board and supervisors, this year the two panels have not clashed over spending. Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said the schools made a "good faith" effort to limit spending and to consider a "pretty dire" fiscal forecast.

Some parents and teachers have criticized the plan. At a recent School Board meeting, dozens of teachers showed up wearing blue T-shirts saying, "Pay equity."

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