County Board and School Board met this morning in a joint work session and the topic was the Arlington Public School System and the County's and APS's FY 2016 respective budgets.
According to Arlington County Finance Director Michelle Cowan, assessments for single family homes in Arlington are rising by 8%, condominiums by 5%, apartments by 0-2%, office building assessments are declining. Other sources of revenue, like the meals tax, are flat. County Government can expect a 2% to 3% revenue growth over the next several years. Given County Government's various increasing commitments, like employee healthcare, Cowan foresees a FY 16 budget gap for County Government in "single digits".
APS predicts a budget shortfall of $28.3 million in FY 16, largely caused by an unexpected increase in student enrollment. (According to APS insiders, the jump in student enrollment was the result of more than 300 refugee children from Central America being resettled in Arlington this year). The School Board, Superintendent Murphy, and APS Facilities and Operation Staff were unable or unwilling to supply the County Manager and County Board with specific data about the demographics that are driving the increase in student population. Latest projections by APS indicate Arlington's public school enrollment will grow from 24,529 in September 2014 to 32,305 in September 2024.
Various statements made by School Board members and APS Staff indicate that APS is operating a very expensive school system and is unwilling to make any changes. For example, Superintendent Murphy revealed that APS hires few inexperienced teachers and many experienced teachers who have advanced degrees. Both the School Board and Superintendent are unwilling to cut programs or increase class size. Both are unwilling to provide data which would show what it costs to educate students in various programs.
The County Board will discuss the FY 16 budget at length at the November 18th County Board meeting, agenda items 31 and 32, which are now posted on-line at arlingtonva.us.
Update - the Powerpoint presentations at the November 7th County Board / School Board joint work session are available online at: