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January 24, 2012 Published in Editorials

A Responsible Budget?

Superintendent of Schools Morton Sherman presented his Fiscal Year 2013 budget to the School Board and the public last Thursday. Given the still rising enrollment and the demands of the state to increase contributions to the Virginia Retirement System it looks like a good start. With budgets, however, the devil is always in the details.

One of the details that must be examined carefully is the Superintendent's desire to reform Adult Education. We support reform but not at the expense of programs that are already serving students well and not until the location details are worked out and adequate time and resources provided for training the staff for these "satellite campuses."

We are encouraged by the budget's provision of 3 weeks of additional instruction time for all elementary schools. As we wrote several weeks ago, the long summer vacation is the well documented enemy of learning for at risk children. Having time in the summer for instruction that would reduce the July and August gap of school attendance could well be a helpful step.

Of course we wonder about the role of the Middle Schools in this process. Alexandria has a well-documented history of improving student achievement at the elementary schools only to see the gains slip away in grades 6-8. If Middle School students lose summer learning opportunities to provide more for elementary school students then we can predict the outcome and it will not be a good one.

The Superintendent is also taking a hard look at the "external" partners of the schools. In this era of diminished resources this is appropriate as is a more professional approach to providing money for services and evaluating the services provided. We caution that this process must be transparent and fair. The history of each partner also needs to be considered.

We are positive towards the idea of reducing central office staff and look forward to analyzing how this is to be accomplished.

Finally we have a caution. Dr. Sherman used the words: "This proposed budget is a moral document......."  We are not sure what that means but we are concerned. Does the Superintendent imply that anyone who questions his budget "immoral"?  We have had quite enough inflamed rhetoric in our city in the past few years and we do not need public administrators adding fuel to the fire.

The Code of Virginia is quite clear on this subject. The Superintendent is charged with presenting a budget that meets the needs of the students. The School Board examines that budget and fits it to the community's ability to pay at the time. City Council then further reviews the budget for funding.

Superintendents and City Councils in Alexandria have been quite good at playing their parts over the years. This year should be the same. Budgets are budgets. Leave the rhetoric at home and let the increasing achievements of our students speak for themselves.

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