ne of the nation’s most prominent superintendents and the current president of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) was overruled by his board on his decision to cut technology spending by 31 percent in the nation’s 12th-largest school system.

Daniel A. Domenech, superintendent of schools for Fairfax County, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., said he proposed the measure to help schools cope with burgeoning enrollment.

The superintendent’s plan drew fire for sharply curtailing technology spending in his school system in the next fiscal year. The Fairfax County School Board said they will vote to increase Domenech’s budget request to maintain this year’s level of technology spending.

Before the board voted, Domenech had told eSchool News that the proposed cuts were necessary if his school system hoped to keep pace with student enrollment.

Domenech wanted to cut back new technology spending, from $23 million to $15.8 million. His plan would have pushed the district’s technology spending back to its level of three years ago.

But, Domenech said, the cuts were proposed to reflect the painful realities his 152,000-student school system faces.

Fairfax County Public Schools have seen their enrollment surge by 7,000 students in the past two years. Yet the district’s revenues, three-fourths of which are supplied by property taxes, haven’t kept pace with its population growth. The cuts in technology spending were to free up funds to hire nearly 500 teachers, Domenech said.

The new plan, proposed by Board chair Jane K. Strauss, would increase the budget request by $8.5 million, enough to offset Domenech’s cutbacks. Members of the board approved Strauss’s plan in a budget vote on Feb. 11.

“The superintendent did a good job and presented a highly responsible budget to the board, but it’s incumbent upon [us] to listen to the community,” Strauss told the Washington Post. “And based upon what the community has said, I feel completely justified in asking for more.”

Technology race

According to a series of stories in the Post, Domenech’s proposal has touched a nerve in an affluent community where parents pay close attention to the number of computers in their children’s schools.

“I have great respect for Dan Domenech and his managerial capability, but I’m confused by this decision,” Judy Gray, president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, told the Post. “It’s counter-intuitive to what our students are going to need to have access to and know as drivers of the new economy.”

Another high-tech executive told the Post that Domenech’s plan to purchase fewer computers, coupled with the increasing number of Fairfax students attending school in crowded classrooms, may denote a new, less glamorous era for a district that has a national reputation for academic excellence.

$8 million hole

In the interview with eSchool News, Domenech answered his critics.

“I, and our board, and our system remain committed to technology,” he said.

Domenech pointed out that his plan would not have reduced existing technology; it simply would have slowed the pace at which technology is added. “Because of constraints in the budget, I was very limited in terms of new additions,” he said. “But our baseline technology budget of $50 million wasn’t touched.”

Technology wasn’t the only target of budget constraints. Domenech said he was forced to cut spending on new instructional programs, programs to expand the mainstreaming of special-ed students, and a $3 million measure to place assistant principals in every school.

The county board of supervisors will vote on the budget in April.

American Association of School Administrators

Fairfax County Public Schools

The Washington Post