The ink had barely dried on the proposed Arlington school budget before battle cries began reverberating from the county courthouse to the school administration headquarters a few miles away.
Superintendent Larry Cuban, who is resigning his post effective March 1, was called "irresponsible" by County Board Chairman Stephen H. Detwiler, who also fumed that the budget plan was Cuban's "parting shot" at the County Board.
County Board member Walter L. Frankland, who frequently has been at odds with Cuban, said the superintendent should have stayed out of the budget process this year. "The minute (his) resignation was announced, it was obvious he shouldn't have been involved," Frankland said. "Obviously, he knew he wasn't going to have to be involved with it."
Cuban's budget proposal totals $59.8 million, an 11.5 percent increase over last year's budget.
But what Detwiler and Frankland were particularly angry about was Cuban's proposal calling for a 15 percent increase, or $46.8 million, in the county contribution to schools. That is nearly $3 million higher than the county-suggested cap of $43.5 million, which represents a 7 percent increase over last year's share of $40.7 million.
"I always thought (the 7 percent) guideline was unrealistically low. I think the budget the superintendent presented is more in line with what the school system needs," said school board member Torill B. Floyd.
The proposed 15 percent increase is the largest ever requested from county funds, and it appeared to alarm the three Republican-backed school board members. Indicating that cuts were in store, they pressed Cuban on what consideration he had given the County Board guidelines.
Cuban, who had anticipated a backlash from the County Board, said he had given "serious and careful" consideration and had established spending proposals that "in my professional judgment are what the school system needs."
Noting that it ultimately is up to the school board to approve the budget, Cuban remarked, "The board has to decide to meet the guidelines or exceed them. That's your decision. I've made mine."
Cuban's proposed budget includes a 10 percent pay hike for teachers and other school employes and the doubling of longevity payments. The total compensation package, which includes pay and other mandated benefits such as insurance coverage, would be $4.6 million.Cuban described it as "a prudent effort to cope with the inflationary spiral and to underscore the importance of school professionals to this community."
Marjorie McCreery, executive director of the Arlington Education Association which represents most of the 991 teachers in the system, said the proposed pay increase still lags behind the 12 percent increase in the cost-of-living for this area. "And when you're $3 million over the guideline, that $4.6 million is very tempting (to cut). I wouldn't recommend spending it yet."
Among other proposals in the budget:
The elimination of 14 teaching posts to account for an expected enrollment drop of about 750 students.
The transfer of $130,000 in 15 special accounts into five "top priorty" programs. One pilot program calls for four elementary school guidance teachers to expand services ranging from the identification of the gifted and talented and special education students to parent education and counseling. Another would pay the salaries of two staff members, previously paid with federal funds, at a center for non-English-speaking students. Other programs would finance staff training for teaching "thinking" skills and teaching gifted and talented students.
In other action, Superintendent Cuban recommended that $165,000 in capital improvement funds to renovate Washington-Lee High School be used for other projects. Cuban said the money is no longer needed since the County Board has agreed to seek other funding for the $1.8 million in renovation costs.
The school board plans to present its proposed budget to the County Board on March 28.