In a split decision last week the Arlington School Board voted to require Chairman Goldstein to inform the County Board they need more money in the upcoming budget via an increased tax rate.
Serving on a local school board may be the toughest job in politics. There is nothing more personal to a parent than what happens to their children. That means even modestly controversial decisions come with the knowledge it could produce a heightened outcry from the community. And that undoubtedly puts significant pressure on our School Board members to make it look like they are doing something in the face of Superintendent Murphy’s proposed budget priorities.
Three members decided to take the unusual step of sending a letter to the County Board to make it look like they are doing something. Here is what they could do instead.
First, they could stop using language that is misleading. When the Superintendent is proposing to increase the budget by 4.9% to $671.6 million, and per student spending will rise to $23,569, you do not have a budget shortfall. When you have closeout funds available to spend every year, you do not have a budget shortfall. What you have is the job to balance spending priorities and growth within a healthy school budget.
Second, if they do not like the budget priorities that the Superintendent proposed, they can keep working through the budget line by line to determine if APS can spend $23,569 per student in a way that meets the needs of our schools. The Superintendent proposes spending levels, it is their job as our elected representatives to ensure those spending levels work within the budget constraints.
Third, if after doing the above they believe they still need additional resources, then do all of the homework in advance of passing the proposed budget on April 11th. At that point, they can take advantage of the joint work session scheduled between the County Board and School Board scheduled for April 12th. Be prepared to walk in there and make the case for the increase they are seeking, backed up by numbers not just rhetoric. That gives the County Board 10 days to make a final decision on whether or not to increase the tax rate in a manner that is dedicated to schools.
Sometimes letters are helpful in bringing awareness to issues. In this case, however, it looks more like an attempt to lay the foundation for the finger to be pointed at the County Board for any unpopular cuts.
Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.