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Peter’s Take: Arlington Budget Guidance, Part Two

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotThe County Board is scheduled to adopt its budget guidelines on Nov. 19. This column explains in more detail than last week’s why those guidelines should direct an increase in the budget share provided to Arlington Public Schools.

The main reasons are: school enrollment has been rising, while it’s getting more challenging to deliver a 21st century education, and the APS share of the total budget has been slipping.

The combination of these three things happening simultaneously continues to reduce the relative share of educational resources that APS used to have.

School enrollment rising

APS projects that enrollment is expected to continue to grow in FY 2015 by 793 students. This represents an increase of about 30 percent since FY 2007. The financial impact of this enrollment growth for staffing alone could exceed $8 million in FY 2015. Other costs related to this growth (relocatable classrooms, furniture, textbooks, etc.) are likely to add $3 million.

Educational challenges up

APS must honor its commitments to bring instructional time up to the same level and provide the FLES program at all elementary schools. As a percentage, special education enrollment has not changed significantly. But, the severity of the needs of APS’ special education students has been increasing, especially in the autism area. These educational priorities require significant additional resources.

APS share slipping

While there have been occasional one-time, special add-ons in county transfers of funds to APS from FY 2007 through FY 2014, the overall trend of these transfers has been downward in relative terms. Thus, over that period:

  • County revenue provided to APS has grown 32.5 percent, but locally-generated revenue retained by the County has grown 38.6%;
  • Over the same period, the APS budget share has declined from 46.7 to 45.6 percent.

APS also helps to generate Arlington’s tax dollars. A recent report by Dr. Michael Walden concluded that APS’ high and improving academic performance contributes to the Arlington economy:

  • Arlington County residential property values are between $2.7 and $4.7 billion higher than they would have been without academic improvement;
  • These increased property values contribute annually between $27 and $47 million more in property tax revenues than would have been received without academic improvement.

APS’ share of the operating budget should be restored to the level that properly reflects Arlington’s historic commitment to public education.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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