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Councilors mull school budget challenges as poverty, enrollment grow
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Credit: Aaron Richardson, Charlottesville Tomorrow
Charlottesville Schools director of student services Kendra King, right, and school board member Jennifer McKeever, left, listen to a budget presentation.
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| Thursday, January 26, 2017 at 7:01 p.m.

Charlottesville schools are facing enrollment numbers that are growing faster than the division’s budget, increasing student poverty rates and the possibility of crowded classrooms, schools staff told the City Council on Thursday.

A presentation by the city school division’s budget director, Kim Powell, showed that the division’s budget has grown by 16 percent since 2008, while enrollment has shot up 19 percent since 2011.

The proportion of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch in city schools grew from 53.4 percent to 56.7 percent between June of 2015 and June of 2016, the presentation showed.

At the division’s smaller elementary schools, said city schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins, classes have moved out of classrooms.

“We have schools where we are using all small spaces in the buildings,” she said. “At Johnson and Burnley-Moran, they are using all the available space.”

The division has commissioned a facility study to find additional classroom space and determine which buildings need modernization, renovation or additions.

Councilor Wes Bellamy said he would consider moving school projects forward on the city’s capital improvement priority list.

“We may need to have a very frank conversation about where school modernization and improvements fall on the CIP list,” Bellamy said. “We need to seriously think about how we educate our students and the spaces that are available to them.”

The city schools’ current $78.5 million budget is a 3.6 percent increase over the 2015-16 budget.

The schools last year received a $1.9 million, or 8.1 percent, increase in city funding over the previous year. Councilors and School Board members expect the city to add another $2 million to the division’s funding this year.

State funding to the schools rose last year by more than 10 percent, as legislators attempted to reverse a years-long trend of falling contributions.

Despite increases from the state, the staff presentation showed that the state’s per-pupil contribution is more than $500 less than levels in 2009 when adjusted for inflation.

The state in 2009 paid a statewide average of $4,711 per student, adjusted for inflation, and in 2016 contributed $4,179, a slide showed.

That is not likely to change, staff said, as the state’s Medicaid and debt service costs combine with slow revenues. The state’s debt service is expected to crest to $700 million in 2017, documents showed.

Atkins will present her funding request to the School Board on Feb. 2. The board is set to approve a budget request Feb. 16 and present it to the City Council on March 6.

 

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