The Arlington School Board unanimously passed a $669.5 million budget Thursday night.
The budget includes funding for Arlington’s continually expanding school enrollment, with 1,000 more students expected to attend class in the county next year alone. Members also approved a $10.7 million pay increase for Arlington Public Schools staff and funded a study to evaluate salary structure ideas for the future, such as using cost-of-living adjustments instead of discretionary “step” increases.
Arlington Education Association President Ingrid Gant, whose organization represents APS employees, pushed for the increase during a Board hearing on Tuesday, telling members, “it is embarrassing, it is appalling, it is downright disrespectful that members of the School Board want educators to give their all… yet we only give them crumbs come budget time.”
The School Board had previously marked up their own version of a draft APS budget. On April 12, all members, save Barbara Kanninen who abstained, approved a $669.3 million APS budget. Board members hailed the newly-approved final budget and thanked the County Board for a tax hike that will provide additional revenue for the school system.
“It’s clear that this community cares deeply about education and the future of our schools, and we thank the families, students and employees who participated,” Board Chair Reid Goldstein said of the many budget meetings over the last two months.
Goldstein said the County Board, which unanimously passed a budget that includes a two-cent property tax rate hike, helped APS close $6.7 million budget gap that School Board members originally said they couldn’t close without making unpopular cuts. The gap was smaller than the $43 million gap County Manager Mark Schwartz initially feared APS would face come fiscal year 2020.
After higher-than-expected revenue estimates and lower-than-expected healthcare costs, APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy said APS would likely only need to cut about $10.1 million from the budget as long as the county passed a tax hike. At the time, Murphy said that unless the County Board could come up with ways to fork over the remaining gap, APS could be forced to cut an Equity and Excellence coordinator, rowing teams, and the Outdoor Lab.
The cuts were not included in the final budget. It did, however, contain other “substantial efficiencies and reductions” recommended by the superintendent to help close the initial budget gap, APS said.
Equity and Excellence Supervisor Carolyn Jackson spoke Thursday night about the impact her office has had. The majority of the office’s program participants are students who quality for free or reduced lunch, and many are Latino and the first in their family to go to college, according to Jackson’s presentation.
Four students took to the podium Tuesday to thank board members for funding the Equity and Excellence office, and making them “feel like their voices were heard.”
“This budget is an investment in our future,” Goldstein said in a statement, adding that it “allows APS to preserve its excellent programs and services while investing in quality teachers and staff.”