A member of the Arlington Board of Education threatened to resign last week to protest what she called an "irresponsible" attempt by other board members to set next year's school budget without board discussion or public involvement.
Torill B. Floyd, the lone Democrat on the school board, said later that she became angered because "all of a sudden we were going to be forced to vote on something we ordinarily give a great deal of discussion. This step is very important. You don't just leap into it like they were going to do.
"There was no indication from the agenda that we would be acting on this," said Floyd. "School board members should know beforehand that a decision is to be made. I was completely unprepared for that (move), and the public was, too."
Floyd's resignation threat came after board member Simone J. (Sim) Pace moved that the superintendent prepare a $47.5 million budget for fiscal 1983.
Pace argued that the Arlington County Board had established that amount as the maximum the county would contribute to the next school budget, but Floyd maintained that no specific amount had been set. School board members during the meeting, and county board members later, remained confused over whether a figure had been set.
Pace based his opinion on a letter to the school board from Stephen H. Detwiler, county board chairman, describing the county's anticipated fiscal plight next year and indicating a $47.5 million school spending guideline had been established.
But the letter was placed on the school board agenda for discussion only -- an agenda that usually contains only items the board is expected to act on.
When it appeared that Pace's motion would win at least three of the five board votes, a visibly angry Floyd said, "This is a very irresponsible action. I feel upset enough that I would probably resign from the school board if this is the way the school board chooses to go about setting its budget."
Pace subsequently withdrew his motion, since the spending-guideline issue had been intended for discussion only, but he asked that the issue be put on the agenda for action at the next school board meeting, next Thursday.
By then, the confusion that prompted the Floyd-Pace confrontration should be resolved, since the county board plans to clarify its position on the spending guideline at its meeting Saturday, Detwiler said.
"We have confused the school board members unintentionally," he said.
But board members themselves also seemed confused by the developments. Board member Walter L. Frankland said there was "no question" that the board, at its Oct. 17 meeting, had set a $47.5 million guideline.
Members John G. Milliken and Ellen M. Bozman disagreed, however.
"There was no specific guideline figure set," Milliken said. Added Bozman, "I do not think we gave a specific number to anyone. I think we're going to have an argument about this at the next meeting."
Detwiler said he could give neither a yes or no answer to whether the guideline had been set. He said what the county board did was adopt the acting county manager's recommendation to look at potential ways of dealing with a projected $4.7 million deficit in the county budget.
The county staff has predicted it will cost $162.7 million in fiscal 1983 to maintain county services at their current level and give county employes a 5 percent pay raise. That would include $47.5 million for the schools, 5 percent more than the current school budget. County revenues, based on an anticipated 10 percent increase in real estate assessments, are projected at only $158 million.
One option the board is considering as a way to close the predicted deficit without raising the real estate tax rate is a 5 percent reduction in the workforce. The board directed the county staff to prepare a budget "reflecting the impact on services" of such a cut in staffing in fiscal 1983 and 1984.
The school board also has been asked to tell the county board what it would cost to run the schools at their present level and to project the impact of a similar 5 percent cut in the school work force.
The purpose of all this, county officials said, is to determine where cuts could be made so that costs do not exceed the $158 million in projected revenues.
Detwiler, however, said the schools could get even less than $47.5 million. If there is a $4.7 million deficit, he said, further cuts will have to be made in both the county and the school budgets.
School officials have already told the county board it will cost nearly $47 million just to run the schools at their current level next year because of increases in such things as insurance premiums and mandatory salary step increases.
It would cost another $2 million if school employes get a 5 percent pay raise to match that proposed for county employes, school officials have said.