Proposed Arlington schools budget cuts back in many areas

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Arlington County Schools Superintendent Patrick K. Murphy proposed a $442 million budget Tuesday that would increase the average class size in most grades, introduce participation fees for athletics and cut 95 positions.

The spending plan for the 20,268-student school system represents a $3.5 million increase over the current year's budget but a slight year-to-year drop in per-pupil spending. School planners project about 700 additional students.

Murphy said the budget, the most austere in memory, is especially notable for what it lacks: pay increases for teachers or any new programs, "things that have traditionally been part of the Arlington menu."

The proposal follows a string of gloomy financial reports from area school leaders who are more accustomed to unveiling cutting-edge programs. Prince William County officials are planning for a 3 percent spending reduction, while serving 3,200 additional students. Fairfax County school leaders have said they could roll back full-day kindergarten and cut popular foreign-language and music offerings if county funding does not increase.

Murphy outlined $13 million worth of cuts to balance a budget that accounts for rising enrollment, increasing health-care and pension costs, and anticipated reductions in federal and state funding.

In his plan, class sizes, which range from 19 to 23 students, would increase by an average of one student. Fourth- and fifth-grade classes, which tend to be the largest in elementary schools, would be spared. The change would save $2.9 million and trim 41 positions through attrition, though Murphy said he does not anticipate layoffs.

Some clerical positions also would be cut, along with positions in maintenance and technology departments.

Allowances for staff development, transportation and equipment replacement would be trimmed.

New or increased fees would bring in $500,000 in revenue. The cost for cafeteria meals, driver education and summer school would go up slightly. Student athletes would have to pay $50 per sport in high school and $25 in middle school beginning next year. Students eligible for free or reduced-price meals would pay less.

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