The $53 million school budget that Arlington Superintendent Larry Cuban proposed to the county school board last week was packaged as a gift to school employes.
"Salaries are the prime consideration of the 1980-1981 budget," said Cuban, who offered teachers and other employes a 10.5 percent salary increase wrapped around other compensation amounting to $4.1 million. That figure represents roughly 90 percent of the 9 percent increase over the current $48.5 million budget.
But Marjorie Sale McCreery, president of the Arlington Education Association, which represents most of the county's 1,000 teachers, did not accept the package enthusiastically.
Before Cuban presented the budget, McCreery said if the proposed salary increase were "less than 13.4 percent, it's not enough." Afterward, McCreery said the offer, which is slightly more than the Fairfax County school board offered its teachers last week, would not move her to recommend calling off the work-to-the-rule job action that Arlington teachers began 18 months ago, partly because of salary disputes.
"It's the fourth year in a row the superintendent has asked for a salary increase less than the rate of inflationsaid McCreery. "I don't mean to be an ingrate, but nevertheless it's pay cut again."
The Arlington County Board, which finances most of the school budget, has indicated that the budget may be in for some trimming when it comes before the board for approval.
"I'm a little disappointed," said Dorothy Grotos, a member of the Republican-back majority on the CountyBoard. "I think our guideline for the school budget was a very realistic one."
The County Board set a 5 percent ceiling on increases beyond the $38.3 million the county provided the school system this year. Under the current proposal, the county would pay $41.4 million of the school budget, 8 percent more than the current year. Cuban told the school board he regarded the 5 percent county figure as a "floor," the minimum increase the county would back. In that context, he said, his proposed increase represented a "modest ceiling."
County Board Chairman Walter Frankland, who has been engaged in a sometimes-bitter dispute with Cuban and the two Democratic-backed County Board members, replied that Cuban's "floor" was a ceiling the schools should not exceed.
"Invariably, the school board comes in higher than the guidelines," said Frankland. "Then if any cutting is done, the County Board takes the heat." f
County Manager W. Vernon Ford, in presenting the proposed county budget last week, called for a contribution of about $40 million to the schools, $1.1 million less than Cuban has requested.
The school board and County Board appear to be on a collision course over money. Most of the county's share of the school budget customarily has come from real estate taxes. To generate the increase called for in Cuban's proposal would, at current rates and assessments, requires an increase of 6 cents in the current tax rate of $1.29 per $100 of assessed value. That increase would cost the average Arlington homeowner an additional $50 a year in taxes.
But the County Board already has advetised that it will lower property tax rates at least to $1.21 next year. An increase in property assessments, however, could bring in more revenue even if the tax rate is cut.
"The money is probably there," admitted Frankland. "But don't forget, we haven't gotten it from the taxpayer's pocket yet."
Besides the pay raises, which account for 85 percent of Cuban's proposed budget, the biggest increases over last year were related to skyrocketing energy costs. Gasoline costs rose by $76,000, heating fuel went up $73,000 and transportation funds were increased $127,251.
The largest energy-related increase was for electricity. Cuban's budget calls for an increase of $358,982 over the current year. That, however, will be paid from a county contingency fund rather than the school's operating budget.
An increase of $360,000 was budgeted for new textbooks, teaching materials and library books. A new state law changing the format for school retirement plans will cost an extra $877,774 this year.
The budget includes $183,000 for program improvements, to be paid for by reducing or eliminating $183,000 worth of other programs. One new proposal is the Suspension Prevention Program, which involves hiring three teachers to work as counselors in high schools at a cost of $60,000. Another $55,000 was proposed for a High Intensity Language Program at the elementary-school level. That is a type of tutoring for students who speak English as a second language.
Program reductions included $20,000 from pre-school special-education classes, $39,000 from the elimination of a tutorial center and a $36,000 cut in the academic computer program.
The cost per pupil in Arlington schools will rise to $3,582 next year, which represents an increase of $500 over the current year. This will occur at the same time the school's enrollment is expected to decline by 6 percent, to 14,816.