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Arlington school system on the road to a billion-dollar budget

While enrollment is projected to be flat, higher spending is anticipated
© Adobe Stock image

Enrollment likely will be generally flat for the coming decade, but that won’t stop Arlington Public Schools’ budget from escalating about 26 percent during the same period.

Those figures are contained in Superintendent Francisco Durán’s proposed capital-improvement plan, which is moving toward eventual School Board authorization.

The data projects that the school system’s overall budget will rise from just under $800 million today (fiscal 2024) to a smidge more than $1 billion in fiscal 2033. During the same period, total pre-kindergarten-through-12th-grade enrollment is slated to fluctuate in a relatively narrow band between 28,000 and 29,000, depending on the year.

Both figures, of course, are mere guesstimates – particularly in the five-to-10-year-out period – but provide a window into the thinking and planning at the top echelons of the school system. Given the typical tenures of superintendents and School Board members, it’s possible that neither Durán, who was hired in 2020, nor most board members will be on the dais to see how the 2024-to-2033 budget and enrollment projections pan out.

Projecting enrollment in particular is a tricky business. Not too many years ago, county school officials were anticipating significant year-over-year enrollment growth as far as the eye could see, but since have significantly revised their thinking.

The general-expenditures projections are included in a chart calculating the percentage of school-system debt service to the budget. Currently about 8.1 percent, the debt level is expected to remain comfortably below the 10-percent threshold imposed by the county government throughout the coming decade.

Not having independent taxing authority, the Arlington School Board cannot issue its own debt but must rely on the county government to do so on its behalf. School bonds typically are issued every other year, with one planned for the Nov. 5 election.

– Scott McCaffrey