Local: Education

Arlington schools seek bigger tax hike to cover spending

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Local,Virginia,Education,Taylor Holland,Arlington

Arlington County school officials are urging the county to raise taxes next year even higher than now planned to help local schools prepare for an expected enrollment surge.

The county is already considering raising taxes by 3.2 cents just to cover the $22 million shortfall in its 2014 budget. School officials want to raise taxes by another half-cent, which would make the total increase 3.7 cents.

School Board Chairwoman Emma Violand-Sanchez said the half-cent tax increase would raise about $3 million that the school system can use to prepare for the more than 1,000 new students expected to enroll next year. The additional funding would also enhance programs offered to students who require special services.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy has already proposed a 2014 school budget that consolidates school programming and eliminates 62 positions to help close the $25 million funding shortfall the school system itself faces. But school officials fear that, without a tax increase, those cuts could hamper day-to-day operations.

"We are concerned about the extent the budget has to be cut to close the funding gap," Violand-Sanchez said.

Under Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan's current proposal, schools would get $411 million from the county, a $10.8 million -- or 2.7 percent -- increase over this year's. But school officials say that's not enough and estimate that about $3 million more needs to be added to their $520 million budget.

The County Board has the authority to increase taxes beyond 3.2 cents next year should it agree to the school officials' request. The board in February voted to advertise a tax increase of 5 cents, giving it greater flexibility.

County Board member Libby Garvey said the county has $6.4 million in revenue that "eased the pressure" of balancing next year's budget a bit, but that additional cuts may be needed.

Garvey didn't rule out an additional increase in property tax rates, but said she wants to review spending in other areas of the budget before deciding whether to back the schools.

"It's all a balancing act," Garvey said. "I've asked staff to show me the whole picture, to break out how we spend our money on the arts. How much are we spending on streetcars? How much are we spending on our most vulnerable? At this point, we need to see the whole big picture to get a grasp [of the budget process]."

The County Board is scheduled to adopt its 2014 budget on April 20.

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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Taylor Holland

Staff writer
The Washington Examiner