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School Board approves new $750 million budget

Arlington School Board members clap after approving the final budget for the 2022-23 school year (via Arlington Public Schools)

The Arlington School Board unanimously approved a $749.9 million budget for the 2022-23 school year during its meeting Thursday night.

Revenue for the Fiscal Year 2023 budget includes a $563.8 million ongoing transfer from the county, a one-time transfer of $20.5 million, $3.5 million in carry-over funds from the 2021-22 school year, state and federal funding, and the use of $21.3 million in reserves.

The budget process, Chair Barbara Kanninen noted, went well. It was the first time in four years that the School Board was presented a balanced budget — as opposed to recent years when the superintendent proposed spending more than was anticipated in revenue.

Similar to the county budget, school system funding in the upcoming year emphasizes compensation for staff.

“We want to support our students as much as possible but a big part of that is recruiting and retaining that outstanding staff,” Kanninen said.

The budget will allow the school system to begin implementing its new compensation plan, which will update salary scales, provide consistent step increases and catch up from missed missed step increases in the past. On average, teachers, principals and administrators will see a 6.8% pay increase, while support staff will see an average of a 9.5% increase.

School Board members Mary Kadera and Cristina Diaz-Torres said when they first heard the proposed compensation increases, they thought it would be a “moonshot.”

The budget reduces class size by two students at the elementary level and one student at the high school level, funds additional school-based equity and excellence coordinators and an equity data dashboard, and adds more resources for English learners.

Adjustments to school bell times, which were also approved at the meeting, are expected to result in nearly $2 million in savings for the school system. The changes reduce the number of school start and end times from eight across APS to five, thus streamlining school bus routes and schedules.

The School Board added to Superintendent Francisco Durán’s proposed budget, including funding for four psychologists and social workers, trauma-informed professional learning, the National Board Certified Teacher program, a partnership coordinator, and a math curriculum supervisor.

A chart noting the School Board’s additions to the superintendent’s proposed budget (via Arlington Public Schools)

Other updates to the budget included $147,871 in funding to open the planetarium in October or November 2022 and hire a director, $391,484 for four high school math coaches and $628,000 for a year of tutoring for grades 6-12.

A few public commenters noted the disparities in minority students’ test scores and the need for more funding to compensate for lost learning during the pandemic.

“We took a first step, we have more steps to go until we see each and every one of our students be successful and right now we have a lot of students that are still having some academic and social emotional needs,” Durán said in response.

The Virginia General Assembly still has not adopted a budget for the Commonwealth, so the School Board will likely have to amend the budget to account for any state revenue changes. If there’s a shortfall, the superintendent proposes to fund them with reserves.

Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)

The School Board also kicked off its Capital Improvement Plan process, as Durán put forward his proposal, which totals $388.23 million between 2023 and 2032.

The CIP will be the first 10-year plan since 2018. The school system has only budgeted three years in advance since, in part due to budgetary uncertainty during the pandemic, but can return to the longer range planning now that APS is in a better place fiscally, Durán said.

All proposed project funding includes money set aside for escalation and inflation, as well as contingency.

While about 45% of the CIP will go toward the Arlington Career Center project, Durán said his proposal incorporates many other improvements. He proposed the larger of the two concept options for the career center, which could accommodate 1,795 students. The center is the county’s only career and technical education center.

“This is a major part of our CIP, certainly, but not the only one,” Durán said.

A pie chart in a slideshow depicts that 45% of the 2023-32 Capital Improvement Plan is budgeted for the Arlington Career Center (via Arlington Public Schools)

His presentation to the board also highlighted kitchen upgrades, security vestibules at schools, athletic field replacements and accessibility enhancements.

The first school renovation would have a target fall 2026 start — but the school system hasn’t determined which school will be upgraded.

In the proposal, new synthetic turf would be installed at Wakefield High School in fiscal year 2023, at Washington-Liberty High and Williamsburg Middle School in fiscal year 2024, and at Greenbrier  Park (Yorktown High School) in fiscal year 2025. Kenmore’s field will also be converted but costs will be shared with the county, Durán said.

An HVAC replacement at Barcroft Elementary School is under design and Randolph Elementary’s roof replacement will go to bid this fall.

Other items included in the proposal were upgrades to finance and HR staff software, known as STARS, replacing lock and key systems, and PA system replacements at six schools.

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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/.

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