Local: Education

Fairfax County schools chief asks for $92m more

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Local,Virginia,Education,Rachel Baye,Fairfax County

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Dale is asking the county for $92.4 million more in fiscal 2014 for the school system's budget than the county gave the school system this year.

In his last budget proposal before he retires, Dale announced a $2.5 billion budget for the year that begins July 1, an increase of $62.7 million, or 2.6 percent. County government contributes roughly 71 percent, most of which comes from property taxes.

Most of the budget contains items Dale on Thursday called "unavoidable" -- growth in enrollment, health insurance rates and retirement rates, as well as facility maintenance and new buses.

A look at the numbers
• Estimated student enrollment in 2013-2014: 184,393
• Increase in enrollment from this year: 2,857
• Increase in enrollment from 2008-2009: 14,855
• Superintendent Jack Dale's budget request: $2.5 billion
• Requested budget increase: $62.7 million, or 2.6 percent
• What Dale wants the county to contribute: $1.8 billion, or 71.1 percent
• Requested increase in Fairfax County's contribution: $92.4 million, or 5.5 percent

The school system is expecting an additional 2,857 students in the 2013-2014 academic year, which would put a total 184,393 students in Fairfax County Public Schools, Dale said. If projections are accurate, the school system would have nearly 15,000 more students than it did five years ago.

Among the new students, roughly half are expected to be high-need and more expensive to educate -- 16 percent speak English as a second language, 13.8 percent need special education, and 27.3 percent receive free or reduced-price meals.

Dale proposed adding 185 teachers to keep class sizes from increasing. The budget proposal also includes a net 2 percent pay raise for school employees and $6.5 million for an additional teacher workday, which has not been put on the calendar.

But with the Fairfax County government expecting a $169 million budget hole in fiscal 2014, it's unlikely the county will provide the funding Dale wants, said Supervisor Pat Herrity, R-Springfield.

The schools spend too much on administration costs, Herrity said. "We need to focus the resources into the classroom, on the teachers and on the kids," he said.

With the county looking to fill its own budget hole, the Board of Supervisors already warned the School Board that money for school construction is likely to drop, said School Board member Elizabeth Schultz. "We need to have some realistic priorities, and seeking money beyond that which we are likely to get is not a collaborative way to go about working with the supervisors."

Taxpayers are also likely to question whether, with higher enrollment and more high-need students, the school system should change its educational model, Schultz added. "Repeating the same educational model over and over again is going to get us the same results, and we're going to end up with the same budget deficit and still not meeting needs."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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