Photo: Steve Thurston
The Arlington Public School’s budget will keep class sizes from rising this year, but that costs about $3.5 million, the school board chair told the audience at Thursday night's board meeting.
But class size will come up again and again, Abby Raphael said, warning, "Increases in class sizes may very well be needed in the foreseeable future."
The budget approved by the school board last night is just $22,000 short of $500 million. And that money does not include about $2 million still expected from the county.
About $4.6 million pays for expanding enrollment, such as the need for more staff and leases on relocatable classrooms.
What is not in the budget, Raphael said: no step increase in staff salaries, no increase in the Foreign Language in the Elementary School (FLES) program, no increase in pre-K programs. The budget does not contain major enhancements or expansions of any programs, she said.
The unexpected increase in this year’s budget came at the end of the Virginia General Assembly session less than two weeks ago when that body said employees had to pay five percent more into the Virginia Retirement System and that school systems had to pay current employees five percent more.
The “5 for 5 swap,” as it has become known, should have been revenue-neutral for school districts -- the employees get paid more, but districts pay less towards retirement.
The trouble is that benefits and taxes are based on a percentage of the money the employee makes. When the employees are given the raise to cover the retirement payment, they actually will end up taking home less money than they had before.
This year, the school board was hoping to give staff a two percent raise, but to do that and pay the “5 for 5 swap,” they had to increase employee compensation by 2.84 percent in this year’s budget.
Instead of a $2.2 million increase to cover the planned salary hike, the schools had to find $4.67 million to cover the salary increase and the expenses in the “5 for 5 swap.” The schools found a portion of that money, but had to ask the county government for an additional $1.9 million.
The county board, when it approved its budget Saturday set aside money for APS’s new request. They have not yet paid the money to the schools as the county board wants to study how best to account for all of this. The school board believes the county will approve that money.
"As a school board,...we are committed to our staff so that they can receive the compensation, which we can afford," said board member Violand-Sanchez.
A revenue-sharing formula controls how Arlington real estate taxes are split between the schools and county governments.