The 16.4 percent increase in county funds proposed in the 1988- 89 Fairfax school budget is the largest rise since 1982. An article in some editions of yesterday's Metro section reported the incorrect year. (Published 1/7/88)

Fairfax County School Superintendent Robert R. Spillane last night proposed a $738.9 million operating budget for 1988-89, a 9.95 percent increase that would underwrite the second year of a teacher merit pay plan, new state-mandated programs and the opening of six schools.

Conspicuously absent was substantial money to upgrade aging equipment, a top priority of the county Council of PTAs and the recent report of the county goals commission. Spillane did include more than $8.4 million for replacing equipment, carpeting, air conditioning and asphalt, but it was in a supplemental wish list to be funded if more money becomes available.

Spillane described the spending plan as "a very realistic budget, but even being realistic it's close to a 10 percent increase. I think a lot of people won't be entirely thrilled with this budget in their areas, but no one really gets substantive reductions," he told reporters at a briefing Monday.

The superintendent's proposed budget for the area's largest school district will be the subject of public hearings on Feb. 1, 2 and 3, before the board meets for tentative decisions Feb. 9 and a final vote Feb. 16. Then it goes to the county Board of Supervisors, which has the last word on school spending.

The proposed school budget includes a 16.4 percent increase in county funds, the largest rise since 1972, for a total of $507.9 million.

School Board Chairman Mary E. Collier said county supervisors are concerned about the size of the increase, but she blamed it on uncertainty about the amount of state funding the county will receive and said Fairfax officials need to lobby the Virginia General Assembly for more money.

Most of the $66.9 million in proposed new spending -- $46.2 million -- would pay for salary increases for teachers, school administrators and other employes. The largest chunk, $32 million, would fund teacher salary increases that were promised as part of a three-year phase-in of merit pay agreed to with the county's major teacher union in 1986.

Teachers received 12.1 percent this year and are to receive an average 8.5 percent in each of the next two years. By 1990 all teacher pay increases are to be based on performance reviews.

In an effort to ease a shortage of transportation employes, bus drivers, attendants and supervisors would get an 8 percent raise next year. Other school employes would receive 4 percent increases.

The budget would raise average teacher pay from this year's $35,270 to $37,034 in the 1988-89 school year. Although teachers with less-than-satisfactory job ratings are not to receive pay raises -- as more than 100 did not this year -- Spillane said his proposed budget includes money to give every teacher a raise.

When Spillane proposed his budget last year, it was dominated by the pay-for-performance program. The proposed budget for merit pay is "an important factor but not a controlling factor," Spillane said of this year's budget.

The budget includes $3.3 million to meet new state requirements for smaller English classes in intermediate and high schools by hiring 26 new teachers, and for having a guidance counselor in each elementary school by hiring people for 50 1/2 positions. The state will require English classes to be no larger than 24 students; the county will accomplish this by reducing each teacher's total number of students to 120, from the current 124 or 125, officials said.

Because five elementary schools and a secondary school are opening next year, the budget includes $5.5 million for start-up staffing and operating costs. The budget adds in $3.1 million for new staff and supply costs based on an expected 895 additional students -- the fifth straight year of enrollment growth in the 130,000-student school system.

A total of $585,000 in growth-related facilities spending also is included, for the purpose of hiring building inspectors, air-conditioning maintenance people and equipment.

The spending plan includes $18.6 million to expand programs begun in previous years -- more art instruction in elementary schools, asbestos removal, and additional computers in classrooms and offices -- and to begin some modest new programs, such as career centers in intermediate schools.

About $500,000 is included in the budget for possible implementation of the recommendations of a study now being conducted on clerical workload in the school system.

Spillane said one reason he did not include money to buy large equipment in his budget was that the demands of growing enrollment, teacher pay and ongoing programs took a "pretty hefty bite."

The equipment spending was included on his supplemental wish list because "I didn't want the board to go away thinking that this would solve all the problems that board members have suggested in the past exist in the school system."

Also on that supplemental wish list is $1.2 million to equip school buses with walkie-talkies so drivers and administrators can communicate during snowstorms, traffic jams or breakdowns. Had school buses been equipped with radios during the surprise Veterans Day snowstorm, they could have been turned around en route to school to take children home, Spillane said.