The proposed 1980 budget that the Alexandria school board sent to the City Council Tuesday night included one of the largest pay increases for city teachers and administrators in recent years.
Under the proposed budget, teachers' salaries would increase 12.5 percent, including an automatic, 2.5 percent step increase that most teachers, receive. That would be on top of a 2 percent raise granted to all school employes this week. The salary proposal is part of an overall $41 million budget request. The current budget is $34.3 million.
The budget must now go through a lengthy analysis by city planners before the council approves some version of it this spring. More than four out of five dollars spent for schools come from city coffers, and last year council members were extremely critical of the school board's accounting techniques and practices. In the end, however, they granted virtually all of the board requests, cutting only $321,000 from the original proposal.
In the best tradition of political horse-trading, the school's budget expert, William F. Leonard Jr., assistant to Superintendent John L. Bristol, is calling the $41.047,798 proposal "a bare bones budget." Leonard said in a recent interview that the budget has eliminated areas of duplication, cut waste and shows improved and clarified accounting procedures.
"There's no fat in this budget," he said.
Although the council has not yet announced its proposal for the overall city budget, it recommended last week to City Manager Douglas Harman that his 1980 proposals be limited to no more than $107 million, including whatever is designated for schools.
That limitation was closely related to another council proposal -- a 10 percent cap on the money that can be raised from property taxes. Those taxes currently provide $43 million of the city's $94 million budget, and are the city's single largest source of income. Under the guidelines passed last week, no more than $48 million could be raised from property taxes.
The two proposed limitations, if followed could have an impact on the amount of money available for the schols from the city. As the largest chunk of the city budget, the schools' money request traditionally has sparked a furious debate between city officials and the school board. This year's proposal provides much fodder for the annual spring haggling rites.
The largest single increase is the additional $4,064,664 requested for teachers and administrators' raises. Currently, $24.7 million is spent on salaries, the largest single expenditure for the schools. According to leonard, the 14.5 percent pay increase would be received by Alexandria's 801 teachers if the budget is approved.
The 59 administrators would receive a 9.9-percent increase, and several hundred staff employes, such as bus drivers and maintenance workers, would receive a 9.5-percent increase, Leonard said.
There currently are 1,332 people employed by the Alexandria schools. The rationale for the large increase is to keep the salaries competitive with those in other school systems, Leonard said.
Last June, after bitter debate, the school board approved a 7.8 percent pay and benefits increase for teachers, which was close to the 8 percent raise demanded by the Alexandria Education Association, which represents most city teachers.
However, the current pay proposal for teachers may have some tough sledding.
By the school board's own figures, enrollment will decline by 5 percent next year -- from 11,445 students to a projected 10,832. Additionally, although the council recently raised salaries of its 1,600 city employes, it was only a 2 percent hike, a modest increase when compared to the proposed increase for teachers and staff. However, officials are considering additional raises for city employes.
Finally, there already is some grumbling among city staffers that the way the proposed budget increase was listed is cause for some concern. The increase was listed in its own category, so you have to read the budget document footnote to clearly understand that the $4.064 million pay increase will eventually get allocated among all the other categories, especially "instruction" which currently shows only a dainty 1 percent category increase.
Had the pay raise proposals been put in their regular place, that category would have gone up by at least 10 percent.
The continuing increase in energy costs is another major factor behind the proposed budget increase. According to one budget document, the cost of fuel and electricty is expected to increase by 38 percent this year -- money used to heat buildings and power the board's fleet of yellow school buses. Those fuel cost increases are scattered among various categories, but they are the prime reason the projected cost of operating school buildings has gone up 15 percent, and the cost of running the board's transportation department is expected to go up 11 percent.
Another major increase is in the cost of running the schools' food service. The board is requesting an additional $122,892 this year, representing a 46 percent increase over the current cost of $266,962. Much of the additional increase is said to be for the purchase of new equipment or the repair of old machinery.
Hearings on the budget will start shortly. The council generally approves the entire city budget in May.