The Alexandria School Board, with barely a wince or an addition, last week heeded Superintendent Robert W. Peebles' call for a cutback in jobs and programs and approved his $44.5 million school budget proposal for next year.
"Each year at budget time we hear that we are faced with a 'bare bones' budget. This time, I think we areally are," school board member Lou B. Cook said.
Although board members expressed concern about the elimination of a substance abuse the Title IX coordinator and a reduction in summer school offerings, few changes were made in Peebles' proposal during suprisingly brief deliberations. The coordinator's position was not reinstated and less than half the summer school cuts were refinanced.
The budget, which represents a 10 percent increase over this year's budget of $40.2 million, reflects Peebles' continuously stated budget message: reduce costs through consolidation. Under the proposed budget curriculum specialists will return to the classroom at least part time, teacher's ranks will be pared, administrative tasks will be combined and centralized, and assistant supervisors will spend more time in the schools, instead of their offices, overseeing educational programs.
Peebles noted that any budget increases were not due to expanded programs, but to inflation and to increased costs of meeting federal and state requirements in certain program areas.
"For the past several years the city schools have experienced declining enrollments, soaring inflation rates and a need to respond to legislation that has resulted in federal and state regulations requiring certain staffing levels and essential programs for children with special needs," Peebles said in his budget address to the board. "Budget increases are the result, despite budget-cutting efforts. It is a nationwide, frustrating phenomenon."
In approving the elimination of the $25,000-a-year post of substance abuse coordinator, the majority of board members followed Peebles' lead and assured the public that the cut did not imply a lack of commitment to fight drug abuse. tInstead, they emphasized, a new approach was needed. Peebles has recommended that teachers receive more training in the area.
"I'm embarrassed that we've come to this point," said board member Claudia C. Waller in voting against retention of the position. "So often we read plans, but never go beyond that to check whether they really work. We need more work in the area."
Only board members Lou Cook and William D. Euille voted to retain the coordinator.
"I feel like a guppy swimming downstream when all the salmon are going up, but I must vote for this," Cook said. "I don't doubt that the administration will (not) do a bad job. I just think it can do a better job with a coordinator."
Surprisingly, neither Peebles nor the board mentioned Ronald Reagan's proposed cuts in federal aid to schools. If approved, the school system faces losses of up to 35 percent in funds for its school lunch program and up to 25 percent in its special education programs. Proposed cutbacks in impact aid to schools could cost the school system an additional half-million dollars.
Earlier, Peebles had said the school system would be severly hurt by the cuts, but did not plan to request additional budget increases to replace any lost funds. Instead, Peebles said he would call on the city's elected officials and neighboring jurisdictions to fight the cuts.
The budget now goes to the City Council for approval. The council is expected to act on the proposal by May 7.