Fairfax School Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech challenged Gov. James S. Gilmore III yesterday: If the state is going to impose higher standards on schools, it's going to have to provide more of the money needed to meet them.
"We need the state to play a much bigger role than it has," Domenech said. "If the Commonwealth of Virginia wants first-rate schools, they're going to have to step up to the plate."
Domenech made the comments as he proposed a $1.39 billion school budget for the next fiscal year that--without extra state support--would require a 14 percent increase in county tax money. That's more than double the 6 percent increase that Fairfax supervisors have said the county can afford--and Domenech is pressing the state to pitch in more money to help close the gap.
A spokesman for Gilmore (R) said that the governor's proposed budget would send "hundreds of millions of dollars" back to local governments for education and that under Gilmore's leadership the state has spent an unprecedented amount on schools, including money to help meet the state's new academic standards.
"The governor has put forward a budget that addresses these issues--that makes education a priority . . . but the state can't be looked at as a blank check," said Mark A. Miner, Gilmore's press secretary. Miner said the proposed budget includes $547 million to support the state Standards of Quality and Standards of Learning for the next two fiscal years.
Domenech said the governor's proposed budget is "a nice start, but doesn't come close to meeting our needs," given enrollment growth and demands that schools perform better on the SOL tests. He said that Fairfax County is expected to account for 32 percent of the increase in Virginia's public school enrollment over the next two years but that the school district will receive only about 4 percent of total state aid for school construction.
"Four percent doesn't cut it," he said.
Domenech's proposed budget, for the fiscal year that begins July 1, represents an increase of about $112.6 million from the current year. Much of the additional money--about $42 million--is to pay for enrollment growth. Domenech also has proposed a 3 percent raise for all employees--costing nearly $31 million.
Only about $7.5 million has been earmarked for new or expanded efforts, including money to expand Project Excel to four high schools and one middle school, according to school officials. The program finances extra instructional time and other advantages for the county's most struggling schools to help them boost academic achievement and meet state standards.
Domenech said the district cannot get by with less money than he is proposing without making significant cuts in programs.
Under Gilmore's proposed budget, Fairfax schools would receive about $15 million in lottery proceeds in the coming fiscal year to be used as the district chooses and about $2.8 million to help students do better on SOL tests. Those funds would be in addition to the school system's regular state aid.
Domenech said school officials will work with county supervisors and business leaders in lobbying Richmond for more money. Domenech said he has been meeting with legislators to discuss education funding and would like to meet with Gilmore, too.
"The state is demanding academic accountability. The state must help us fund the academic support our students need," Domenech said.
County business leaders and local officials and others have embarked on a campaign to persuade lawmakers to spend more on transportation and education.
"I think it's entirely appropriate to push the state for more money," said James W. Dyke Jr., who is chairman of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and was secretary of education in the early 1990s under then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder (D). "We need to change the way we fund education."
The School Board's budget chairman, Jane K. Strauss (Dranesville), said that unlike during the recession, school employees and parents won't tolerate pay freezes and program cuts.
"It's a booming economy. Incomes are up. The wealth is there," Strauss said. "The expectations are clear."
CAPTION: Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech wants an increase in state funding.
CAPTION: Gov. James S. Gilmore's administration defends its support of education.