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The Right Note: Two Controversial Ideas for APS

Mark KellyThe Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Just as with our county budget, no one can argue with a straight face that our school budget is strained. We are consistently tops in the region in per pupil spending.

In the past I have asked for an explanation of what makes up the difference between the reported $18,957 per pupil spending and the $22,032 of actual spending. Per pupil spending would increase by $564 under the proposed FY 2018 budget.

It might also be interesting to see a study on budgetary savings from ending homework. There has to be some savings on paper and copier toner.

Last week, Peter’s Take discussed long range budget planning at Arlington Public Schools. His ideas to increase community and County Board engagement would represent a common-sense step in the right direction.

Here are two specific ideas to spark conversation about the APS budget:

Scrap the Revenue Sharing Agreement

As a candidate for County Board, I met with the Arlington Education Association Board and fielded their questions. One of the questions that day was whether I supported a revenue sharing agreement that guaranteed APS would receive 46.5 percent of county revenue.

I answered no.

As you might imagine, the answer met with shocked looks at the table. Why come to this meeting where I was supposedly seeking an endorsement and turn down one of the top requests?

My argument was simple. Why reduce the needs of Arlington schools to a few lines on an Excel spreadsheet? Why not leave open the possibility that sometimes they may need more, or less?

So instead of writing a school budget to an arbitrary 46.5 percent share of revenue, APS should write a budget based on demonstrable needs.

This approach could result in the school receiving a larger share out of the annual budget in some years. It might mean they no longer automatically receive a share of closeout funds, which would take away an administration slush fund.

This line of thinking would certainly require a closer relationship between the County Board and the School Board. It also would shine a brighter light on the APS budget, by requiring another layer of accountability for its spending.

Give APS Maximum Flexibility on Student-Teacher Ratios

Arlington’s enrollment is increasing. However, the growth has slowed down over the projections from a couple years ago. As Arlington works to deal with the uncertainty in increasing enrollment to determine the construction of new buildings, the community should give school administrators some room to make commonsense decisions in the short run.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy included increasing the ratios by one student per classroom as a way to find budget savings in this year’s budget proposal. Based on how the community has reacted in the past, the idea will almost certainly be shot down again.

This issue simply causes reflexive reactions from people who have been conditioned to think that any increase in ratios will have a devastating impact on educational outcomes. However, academic studies have not always backed up this view.

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