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Albemarle School Board advances funding request with accelerated compensation hike
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Brian Wheeler | Thursday, February 12, 2015 at 10:38 p.m.

The Albemarle County School Board on Thursday voted 5-1 to send a $167.2 million funding request to the Board of Supervisors for fiscal year 2016. The request exceeds anticipated revenues by $2.73 million and is a 4.24 percent increase over the budget adopted for the current school year.

“We are the point where you adopt a request for the Board of Supervisors where you identify the needs you wish to have funded for this school year,” the division’s finance director, Jackson Zimmerman, told the board. “The revenues are still a very large unknown in the process and will not be finalized until the February to April timeframe.”

The School Board’s action moved it closer to compensation targets staff said in October were necessary to remain competitive in the market of other localities to which Albemarle compares itself. Staff recommended then a 2 percent salary hike for teachers and 3 percent for classified staff for the entire fiscal year.

In December, the Board of Supervisors and School Board jointly decided to start their respective budgets with smaller raises — 2 percent for teachers and 2.3 percent for classified staff — timed to take effect six months into the fiscal year. The delayed start cut $1.3 million from the budget proposal.

However, at the School Board’s public hearing on the budget, numerous teachers said even a 2 percent increase would be inadequate.

“Since our public hearing, some feelings have intensified on this issue,” School Board member Eric Strucko said.

School Board member Steve Koleszar made a motion to extend the salary increases to the full fiscal year. An additional half-year salary increase would cost $1.3 million.

That motion was defeated in a tie vote of 3-3. Koleszar was joined in support by Ned Gallaway and Strucko. Kate Acuff was absent.

“I think of this as … an important statement of what we value and that’s why I want to see it in our funding request,” Koleszar said.

“We can’t willy-nilly add $1.3 million to the shortfall just to make a point,” countered board member Pam Moynihan. “I hear from teachers wherever I go. I understand that [and] I think we all understand the problem with compensation, but we also have other issues like a shortfall that we have to fix.”

While the 12-month salary increases were taken off the table, Dean Tistadt, the division’s chief operating officer, presented the board with an alternative proposal for “accelerated” raises — extending the initial salary proposal increase from six months to nine months.

“It means the pay raise will also coincide better with the increased health care costs which take effect Oct 1,” Tistadt said.

Tistadt said the added compensation would cost an additional $690,000. Combined with the $1.3 million already included by Superintendent Pam Moran in her budget, the salary increases would total $1.99 million.

The board opted to include a placeholder amount of $690,000 for the accelerated raises or bonuses.

Board member Jason Buyaki voted against the plan.

“I’d like to always see a balanced budget,” Buyaki said before the meeting. “A budget should fit the times we live in and if revenues are down, we need to adjust accordingly, and there are places we can do that which don’t touch the classroom.”

One teacher in the audience said she welcomed the support the board was providing music programs.

“There has been a time when we have had to go to the School Board to ask for funding for the music programs because they were on the line,” said Carrie Finnegan, the orchestra director at Albemarle High School and Jack Jouett and Sutherland Middle schools. “It’s nice that we have found our support, especially for the orchestras, because we have grown them to serve close to 500 students in the county now.”

Finnegan said the salary increase was important too.

“It would certainly be nice to have something to help because what we bring home has actually decreased because of health care costs and [other factors],” Finnegan said. “It would be nice to be able to support our families better.”

The school division’s budget eventually will be balanced as the Board of Supervisors create a more complete picture of state and local revenues as it reviews and approves the overall county budget.

Albemarle County Executive Tom Foley is slated to present the overall county budget to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 19. A public hearing on his budget proposal is scheduled to be held the following at 6 p.m. Feb. 23 in Lane Auditorium at the Albemarle County Office Building.

The Board of Supervisors plans to hold budget work sessions throughout February and March. The School Board expects to present its funding request to the Board of Supervisors at the Feb. 26 work session. More information is available at www.albemarle.org/budget.

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