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The Right Note: Budgets May Be A Little Tighter

The 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.

The members of the Arlington School Board are beginning to ramp up the pressure to increase tax rates this year in order to gain more flexibility in the APS budget. While the County Board will almost certainly advertise a higher rate to give themselves options heading into the budget process, the School Board was not going to wait before getting on the record supporting it.

The fear is that the County Board will not raise the rate, or not enough in the School Board’s view, and instead ask everyone to tighten their belt a little. While the term “austerity” is being thrown around, our elected leaders’ use of austerity may not be the same as the average person would define it.

Like the County Board, the School Board continues to have leftover funds at the end of every fiscal year which they reprogram and spend as part of the closeout process. Children continue to receive computers and iPads free of charge. The student to teacher ratio has not been raised. Our per pupil spending remains the highest in the region despite the increased enrollment. And we continue to move forward with school construction.

It is hardly a situation which you could honestly describe as on the brink of austerity.

School Board Member Monique O’Grady likened the current situation between the School Board and County Board to asking your parents for money. They only have so much, she said, so they cannot give you everything you want.

So let’s extend the metaphor a little.

Imagine your child currently receives an allowance of $20 per week. Next year, you plan to give them $22 a week, but they want $25.  Holding them to $22 is not austerity, it’s just not as much prosperity as they would like.

To go even further, imagine your child receives the increase to $22, but the average child in the neighborhood who was receiving $18 will only receive a raise to $19. While your child did not get the raise they desired, they are even better off than the other kids. That is essentially how Arlington is faring versus our neighbors in the region. Our school funding remains strong year over year, and strong compared to other jurisdictions.

Arlington made strong school funding a priority. And despite the “austerity” talk from the School Board, no one will be asking them to make massive cuts now.

The School Board just may need to take a harder look at priorities and be willing to go to the public and say we can only do 98 percent of what we wanted to do next year.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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