- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

Fairfax County’s new school superintendent met yesterday with county supervisors and vowed to include them in the budget process — a decision that should improve a relationship between lawmakers and school officials that has been marred occasionally by money squabbles.

Superintendent Jack D. Dale told the 10-member Fairfax County Board of Supervisors that he wanted them and the school board involved in the early stages of the budget-making process, including in discussions on priorities.

“It’s messier at the beginning,” he said. “You end up having fairly lengthy discussions, [but] I think it will reduce the tensions.”

Negotiations typically begin after a superintendent submits a budget. But Mr. Dale, 55, said starting the process with group discussions about philosophy and priorities will help build consensus.

Board member Gerald W. Hyland, Alexandria Democrat, said meetings between supervisors and school officials had been “confrontational” and welcomed Mr. Dale’s efforts.

“This is the first time in 17 years that a superintendent has said hello to the board,” he said.

Though the meeting yesterday began with friendly exchanges and board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly attaching a Fairfax County pin to Mr. Dale’s suit lapel, board members wasted no time telling Mr. Dale to stretch every tax dollar.

“In the past, we’ve had some differences in expectations of how much more the local taxpayers can bear,” said Mr. Connolly, Fairfax Democrat.

The district’s $1.8 billion budget and 235 schools make it the country’s 12th largest school system.

The supervisors approve funding for the schools, but the superintendent and school board decide how the money is spent.

Mr. Connolly reminded Mr. Dale that Virginia pays up to 22 percent of the operational costs for the school system and none of the construction costs — in contrast to other states.

For eight years, Mr. Dale was superintendent of Frederick County public school in Maryland, a state that pays 50 percent of its schools’ operational and construction costs.

He agreed July 1 to a four-year contract to become the Fairfax County school superintendent for a reported $237,000 annually. Mr. Dale was named Maryland Superintendent of the Year in 2000.

Beyond budget concerns, Mr. Dale also faces several other challenges, including educating a diverse student population.

About 65 percent of district students are white, 14 percent are Hispanic, 11 percent are black and about 9 percent are Asian-Pacific Islanders.

Mr. Dale, who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Washington, began his career in the state’s public schools, where he got his first experience working with a diverse student body.

“We had tremendous numbers of Asian students,” especially after the Vietnam War, Mr. Dale said. He said the students were “very poor” and that many of those of high school age had never attended school.

Mr. Dale also said he wants to increase college access in Fairfax County high schools. The process involves adjunct professors teaching high school courses that are accredited in colleges. He said his son accumulated 37 college credits in high school, which enabled him to earn a four-year college degree in three years.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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