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Washington Post: Fairfax County schools get a boost in Virginia's budget
Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fairfax County schools get a boost in Virginia's budget

Washington Post Staff Writer 
Thursday, March 18, 2010

The dire forecast for Fairfax County's schools has brightened after state lawmakers approved a budget last weekend that funnels new resources to local schools.

Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale outlined arevised $2.3 billion budget scenario for county supervisors this week that would maintain class sizes and protect hundreds of jobs and several popular programs.

The money needed comes from $48 million in additional state aid, thanks to an updated funding formula that Northern Virginia lawmakers sought. School officials also can count on a reduction in required contributions to the state retirement system. For Fairfax, the state's largest school division, with 173,500 students, that move frees up $109 million.

Precise numbers from the state will not be finalized until later in the week, but school officials across Northern Virginia are revisiting their budget proposals with the expectation of extra cash and fewer cuts. The Prince William School Board was set to review an updated budget forecast Wednesday night.

Dale told supervisors that the school system's spending plan will still include a salary freeze and the introduction of fees for sports, Advanced Placement tests and International Baccalaureate exams. About 200 positions will be cut, about half of them in the central office. But the extra revenue means that some popular programs are out of danger, including foreign-language instruction, band and strings classes in elementary schools, and full-day kindergarten classes, which could have been reduced.

"The pendulum just swung from one end all the way to the other end," said Susan Quinn, chief financial officer for the Fairfax schools. But she warned that "this is a short-term fix."

Federal stimulus funding, which has supplemented special education and programs that serve low-income students, will drop off after next year, and contributions to the retirement account must begin to increase again. Meanwhile, the economy is expected to recover slowly.

The revised Fairfax scenario includes $61 million to be set aside for next year to help the school system through what is expected to be another difficult year.

"It will require a lot of discipline on our part to not spend all of this money right now . . . but we don't want to be back in the same place next year," said Jane K. Strauss (Dranesville), chairman of the Fairfax School Board's budget committee.



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