Fairfax County officials yestereday condemned Gov. John N. Dalton's proposed education budget as too frugal and appealed to other Virginia localities to join their fight for more money.
The joint resolution of the county supervisors and school board was the latest manifestation of the troubles Washington area school authorities say they are having in securing funds to meet their skyrocketing education costs. In Prince George's County, for instance, school authorities say they have been vexed by a county referendum that forced budget cuts.
The Northern Virginia officials appealed yesterday to both the governor and the General Assembly to boost state spending for education above the levels Dalton recommended last week.
Area educators have said that Dalton's proposed 12.3 percent boost in school spending is inadequate to offset inflation and is predicated on the false assumption that school costs can be held down because enrollments are dropping.
Approval of the anti-Dalton campaign came at an early-morning meeting of the two boards that was expected to focus on complaints some supervisors have voiced about the size of the proposed county school budget.
Faced with the prospect of trimming $10.5 million out of that proposal, the supervisors instead passed a unanimous vote of confidence in the school board and then attacked the proposed state budget.
Teacher pay has been a controversial issue in the subburban county, which has the largest public school system in the Washington area. The supervisors later took a step toward easing some of the complaints by voting a 1.85 percent pay increase for all 12,600 county employes, including teachers, effective April 1.
Representatives of the Fairfax Education Association, which represents most of the county's teachers, had been urging that the pay increase be made retroactive to Aug. 1. The group has been urging its members to refuse extra work outside the classroom in a job action over the 5.15 percent pay increase the teachers were granted last spring.
Freshman Supervisor Nancy K. Falck (R-Dranesville), who served on the county school board last year when the 5.15 percent pay raise was approved, said she wanted to give the workers more. Her motion to make the 1.85 percent raise retroactive to Oct. 1, however, died for lack of a second.
"It was the best thing we could do under the circumstances," she said. "You have to keep in mind that rising energy costs were not predicted at that time."
Supervisor Marie B. Travesky (R-Springfield) said the county's energy costs are rising so rapidly that the county should probably have avoided any salary increases at this time. "But county employes -- not just teachers -- really have been shortchanged, and we're trying in some small way to repay them," she said.
County Board Chairman John F. Herrity, who on Friday accused the school board of violating the state's ban on collective bargaining with public workers, joined the votes. He appeared to mute his criticism yesterday, but scolded the school staff for meeting in closed session with representatives of the Fairfax Education Association over salaries.
The closed meetings "violated" the "spirit" of Virginia's freedom-of-information law," Herrity said.
Gerry Gripper, president of the teacher group, said the organization's directors have voted to rescind an earlier recommendation that teachers end their job action. The move was prompted, he said, by Herrity's complaints that the group engaged in illegal bargaining. A vote on the recommendation is scheduled for today.
Funds for the salary increase were chiefly drawn from a $4.5 million surplus in the county's general fund. Among the contributing factors to the surplus were larger-than-expected revenues from property taxes, sales tax, state allocations and interest on county investments, said James P. McDonald, deputy county executive for management and budget.
Supervisor Thomas M. Davis (R-Mason) said the teacher's job action had nothing to do with the latest pay boost. "The teachers didn't get it [the 1.85 percent increase] because they raised a ruckus," he said. "They got it because it was right."
County supervisors also voted unanimously to approve the expansion of the county's energy budget to $3.4 million. The action came in response to pleas by school officials, who said skyrocketing energy costs could push their energy deficit to $4.6 million this year.
The supervisors directed school officials to document the energy conservation measures being taken in the schools and urged them to step up fuel-saving programs.
While admitting his suggestion would be unpoplar, Supervisor Joseph Alexander (D-Lee) said renting textbooks to pupils -- legal under Virginia state law -- would produce more than $1 million in school funds. Alexander said the money could be used to make up a portion of the school system's projected deficit.