School Board Chair
The Alexandria School Board was given another gloomy forecast December 17, when we were told not to expect too much progress from the upcoming legislative session in Richmond.
Like Alexandria and Alexandria City Public Schools, the state of Virginia will also have its fiscal challenges in the year ahead. That puts a big question mark at the end of the legislative initiatives we’d like to see advanced, if not implemented.
After a lengthy discussion at our Dec. 17 meeting, the Board unanimously approved our legislative packet for the upcoming session which begins in January.
Superintendent Sherman, members of the Alexandria School Board, and the superintendents and Board members of Arlington and Falls Church met last week with state legislators to review our legislative packets. Senator Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31), said, “The budget is awful. This is going to be a very challenging session.”
Her words were proven true, when Governor Kaine delivered his proposed budget for FY2011 last week. Governor-elect McDonnell, who assumes office next month, is expected to make alterations to Kaine’s proposal.
“I don’t expect much good to come of this upcoming session,” Lilla Wise, the School Board’s state lobbyist, reported at the December 17 Board meeting. “There’s simply no money.”
While we don’t yet know the specifics for ACPS behind Gov. Kaine’s budget proposal, we do know his budget calls for a reduction in administrative and support personnel in schools and central offices by applying a funding ratio for these positions. And, he proposed a rate of 10.49 percent in the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) for the employers’ share in addition to the 5 percent employee share. Further, starting in FY 2011, Kaine proposed that state employees be required to pay 1 percent of salary as their share of VRS. In FY 2012, that would increase to 2 percent. Local school boards would have the option to require their employees to contribute at the same rate as state employees. And finally, Governor Kaine proposed the retirement age for newly hired state and local employees would increase from age 50 to age 55.
We know that increases in VRS rates are required to retain the system, but we support a long-term plan that would minimize the large fluctuations that occur from year to year under the present VRS funding system. VRS is a very expensive line item in our budget. Therefore, we would like to see the state establish a stable rate that would cover VRS needs, regardless of market and other situations. As a School Board, we could then budget more realistically and more accurately for future needs.
Our own legislative agenda asks for the state to fund testing required by the state or the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which includes the Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. We ask the legislature to continue funding the “cost of competing factor” in which the state provides our school district, and others in this area, with funding to help supplement the higher cost of living (compared to other regions in the state) for our teachers.
We also support eliminating the triennial census and replace it with the enrollment data we provide the state on March 31 each year. We believe this would save school divisions money that is presently spent conducting the triennial census.
We’d also like to see the state establish programs to make pre-kindergarten available for all four-year-old children. And, we are seeking a waiver for our Title 1 elementary schools to begin the school year before Labor Day. Presently, no school in Virginia may begin the school year until after that summer holiday. We oppose that, too, but haven’t had a good track record in lobbying the state to change that law. A waiver is possible, however, for our Title 1 schools, thus giving our superintendent the opportunity to give those students much-needed extra instructional time. Del. Adam Ebbin (D-49) has already committed to sponsoring this initiative for us, which was a piece of positive news among all the negative.
Come January, we’ll be reporting out at our Board meetings the status of our legislative initiatives. I don’t anticipate any huge rate of progress, but I sure would like to be proven wrong.