For the first time in four years, Arlington Public Schools presented a balanced budget for its upcoming fiscal year.
Last night (Thursday) Superintendent Francisco Durán told the School Board his proposed $746.1 million operating budget for July 2022 to June 2023 invests heavily in students with disabilities, English-language learners and other students who are struggling, while ensuring base salaries and raises for staff that are competitive and sustainable.
His proposed budget, with a 6.4% bump in spending compared to the current fiscal year, includes $51 million in new investments and about 82 new positions. These range from assistants, behavioral specialists and therapists for students with disabilities to reading and math coaches at Title 1 schools and buildings with more than 650 students.
School Board members received his budget proposal — and the big, black “zero shortfall” noted — with a great deal of optimism.
“Well, isn’t this refreshing compared to the other budgeting cycles we’ve been through,” School Board member Cristina Diaz-Torres said. “As a whole, I think we’re in a different and more optimistic position than we have been in recent years.”
Between 2018 and this year, the school system proposed budgets with deficits and multiple tiers of optional cuts to consider.
The economic downturn caused by the pandemic exacerbated this trend — and APS walked into the 2023 planning process with a predicted $69 million deficit, driven largely by the need to use $40 million in one-time funding to balance the 2022 budget.
When December and January rolled around, APS heard promising news: Arlington County generated an additional $48.8 million for schools and former Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget provided almost $15 million in additional funding.
These numbers exceeded APS’s forecasts by $46.3 million and $12.8 million, respectively.
“We’re in a good place already,” Board Chair Barbara Kanninen said. “We should give a shout-out to our County Board friends who did a really nice job in bringing in the revenues this year, which is very helpful in terms of our optimism this year, for sure.”
Though revenue increases help cover most of the additional spending, APS would also lean on $26 million in reserves that the School Board has built up over many years. Durán says the budget uses reserves strategically and leaves $25 million untouched.
“We’re definitely supporting this budget with reserves,” Kanninen said. “It’s something we have to deal with over time to make sure we can maintain sustainability.”
The largest chunk, $16.7 million, comes from dedicated compensation reserves that pays for wage and salary increases as well as making staff whole for missed raises. In total, APS would spend an additional $34 million on staff compensation in Durán’s budget.
APS — by its own admission in the 2023 budget — says it needs to work on reducing its dependence on reserves and one-time funds when balancing budgets over the next three years. Otherwise, these reserve buckets will be fully depleted by the 2024 and 2025 fiscal years.
“There is an increasing shortfall in FY 2024 through FY 2026 if the forecast is based on APS’s growing expenditure needs rather than balanced budgets each year,” the budget document says.
Long-term savings to keep APS in the black could come from energy savings, transportation efficiencies, more “collaboration with the county” and continued scrutiny of school programs, it says.
About $1.5 million is set aside for the unknown number of students with medical waivers who would learn virtually this fall via the state-run Virtual Virginia program. The move saved APS $8.9 million it would have otherwise spent to keep the VLP program going.
The 105 full-time positions associated with the VLP will mostly be redistributed to brick-and-mortar buildings, where APS proposes reducing class sizes by two students at the elementary level and by one student at the high school level, and is looking to implement a new staffing model in the middle schools.
For the 2021-22 school year, APS increased classroom sizes by one student for grades K-5 to save about $1.8 million.
There is one factor APS likely does not have to worry about this budget cycle: enrollment increases.
Enrollment grew steadily from 2005 until 2020 — when it dipped due to COVID-19 and virtual learning — and is projected to level off and decrease slightly through 2031.
The decrease in 2020 actually saved APS some money when it was facing deficits in the 2022 budget.
The public will have two opportunities to weigh in on the proposed budget: at the end of March, when Durán’s budget is up for discussion, and once in May, when the School Board’s revised budget is up for debate.
The School Board is slated to adopt the final budget on May 12.
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The Arlington-Aachen High School exchange is returning this summer and currently accepting applicants.
The sister-city partnership started in 1993 by the Arlington Sister Cities Association, which seeks to promote Arlington’s international profile through a variety of exchanges in education, commerce, culture and the arts. The exchange, scheduled June 17th to July 4th, includes a two-week homestay in Aachen plus three days in Berlin. Knowledge of the German language is not required for the trip.
Former participants have this to say:
_”The Aachen exchange was an eye-opening experience where I was fully immersed in the life of a German student. I loved biking through the countryside to Belgium, having gelato and picnics in the town square, and hanging out with my German host student’s friends. My first time out of the country, the Aachen exchange taught me to keep an open mind, because you never know what could be a life changing experience.” – Kelly M._
Learn about the new assessment of Arlington’s urban tree canopy and the many ecological and social benefits trees provide. Staff from the Green Infrastructure Center (GIC) will share study results and compare canopy cover for different areas of Arlington.The webinar will include assessments of ecosystem services such as stormwater mitigation, air quality, carbon uptake, and urban heat islands. For background on Arlington trees see the “Tree Benefits: Growing Arlington’s Urban Forest” presentation at http://www.gicinc.org/PDFs/Presentation_TreeBenefits_Arlington.pdf.
Please register in advance to assure your place at the webinar, https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/29543206508863839.
About the Arlington County Civic Federation: The Arlington County Civic Federation (“ACCF”) is a not-for-profit corporation which provides a forum for civic groups to discuss, debate, inform, advocate and provide oversight on important community issues, on a non-partisan basis. Its members include over ninety civic groups representing a broad cross-section of the community. Communications, resolutions and feedback are regularly provided to the Arlington County Government.
The next meeting is on Tuesday, February 21,2023 at 7 pm. This meeting is open to the public and will be hybrid, in-person and virtually through Zoom. Part of the agenda will be a discussion and vote on a resolution “To Restore Public Confidence in Arlington County’s Governance”. For more information on ACCF and this meeting, go to https://www.civfed.org/.
Valentine gifts for someone special or for yourself are here at George Mason University from noon -4pm on February 14, 2023. Satisfy your sweet tooth with Kingsbury Chocolates, find a handmade bag from Karina Gaull, pick up treats from Village