Superintendent unveils fiscal 2014 budget

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By Melissa Quinn

Superintendent Morton Sherman unveiled his $228.5 million fiscal 2014 operating budget last week, a three percent increase over last year that sets dollars aside for school renovations and a slew of additional teaching positions.

“If we had our druthers to say how do we fit the needs of our kids, I’d have a lot more zeros at the end of the proposal I’m going to give you tonight,” Sherman told board members at their January 24 meeting.

The increase includes salaries for more than 50 additional teachers and funds positions once paid for by the federal government – including guidance counselors at T.C. Williams. Sherman proposed adding elementary school educators to address enrollment increases – the district’s student population is expected to hit 13,707 children by 2014 – and bringing in more instructors for English language learning students as well as art, music and physical education teachers.

Along with adding positions, Sherman’s budget proposal calls for a 2 percent salary increase for the district’s staff. Alexandria already boasts one of highest average teacher salaries in the commonwealth.

“[The] key for our students’ learning is … that we have the very best possible teachers in our schools, in our classrooms, and that we have the very best staff supporting those teachers in their work,” Sherman said.

When given the opportunity to speak before the board in early January, many parents urged officials to continue funding Success for All and STEM programs – and Sherman obliged.

While most schools saw an increase in funding, Jefferson Houston saw a decrease. The school has been on the forefront of administrators’ minds after it lost accreditation, and though it will receive a new building in time for the 2014 school year, Sherman lessened dollars allocated for special education and took away funding for two reading teachers.

Officials increased funding for T.C. Williams in an attempt to offset the loss of federal financial aid, but not all of the 24 jobs created during the transformation made the cut. Five English, four math and two special education teaching positions will be eliminated.

Still, Sherman’s budget adds four counselors and three English-language-learner instructors while preserving the school’s learning coaches.

“We can, when paying attention and providing resources, make an extremely profound difference for our kids,” he said.

He also detailed funding from the city’s capital improvement plan, which focuses primarily on renovation work and expansions at Alexandria’s schools.

Sherman requested an additional $357.4 million for capital improvements between 2014 and 2023, including $189.3 million specifically for classroom additions and new school buses.

Expansion projects are projected for Charles Barrett, Douglas MacArthur, George Mason, Matthew Maury and James Polk elementary schools while additional classrooms will be built at Patrick Henry and T.C. Williams’ Minnie Howard campus. The CIP plan also includes renovating Cora Kelly Elementary School.

The superintendent’s proposal likely will be amended and revised before final approval. At least one member of the school board seemed excited to tackle the massive document.

“We’re going to have plenty of time to dig in,” said school board chairwoman Karen Graf. “I share your eagerness to kind of drill down into the realities of what our students are experiencing in the classroom.”