Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools, said the division will need $166.9 million to serve students during the 2015-16 year.
The funding request, which Moran presented to the School Board on Thursday, represents a 4 percent increase from last year’s adopted budget of $160.4 million, but with revenues expected to jump only 2 percent, Moran’s proposal comes at a time when the schools face a deficit against expected revenues of $3.1 million.
If the shortfall were to be covered by new revenue alone, the Board of Supervisors would have to raise the real estate tax rate by about three cents.
“This funding request is one that is about preservation of the excellent portfolio of programs and services and people who we have working for us right now,” Moran said. “What it does not have is a focus on really enhancing or extending services to any great extent.”
Many factors are contributing to the increased expenditures, Moran said, citing growth as a major factor.
Since 2010, enrollment has grown by 597 students, which is equal to the size of Jack Jouett Middle School. Next year, Albemarle is expecting about 311 new students, and the number of ESOL students — who have higher per pupil costs than traditional students — is growing at a rate of 6 percent, compared with the entire division’s growth rate of 2.3 percent.
Employees also are slated to receive salary increases, which adds $1.3 million. Initially, the Board of Supervisors and School Board agreed to initiate 2 percent raises for teachers and 2.3 percent raises for classified employees at the start of next fiscal year, but opted to start those raises in the middle of next fiscal year to save money.
Despite the move, Moran said maintaining competitive pay is one key to attracting top-tier teaching candidates.
“If we don’t have compensation packages that both help us recruit and retain the very best employees that we can find, then we will become a school division that is drifting towards average performance, versus maintaining our edge competitively as a school division that has high performance,” Moran said, noting that Albemarle’s teachers are netting about 6.3 percent less pay than they were five years ago.
“That just doesn’t seem right to me as a superintendent,” Moran added. “We are concerned that we’re having to do this as a half-year raise and not a full-year raise.”
The division plans to spend $500,000 under the Comprehensive Services Act, which provides services to students with extreme special needs, and will see $2.2 million in new health benefits costs.
New initiatives comprise $189,000 of the spending plan and include adding full-time nurses to elementary schools that have more than 500 students, professional development for teachers and student services.
With respect to revenues, Moran said the biggest decline has come at the state level. In 2008, Albemarle received $3,655 per pupil. Next year, that number is projected to be $3,368.
Last year, to balance their budget, the schools slashed $3.9 million from their request. To accomplish this, the School Board upped class size averages by 0.2 students, reduced salary increases for staff from 2 percent to 1 percent, defunded its share of pre-k funding for Bright Stars and reduced discretionary funds for all schools and departments by 5 percent.
Last year also saw the Board of Supervisors increase the real estate tax rate by 3.3 cents, which brought the rate to 79 cents per $100 of assessed value. Within that 3.3 cents, seven-tenths of a penny was carved out for mandates to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The school division received nine-tenths of a penny, and 1.7 cents were directed toward the capital improvement program and other local government needs.
“The state isn’t doing their part in funding education,” said Ned Gallaway, chairman of the School Board. “They set the Standards of Quality, and those standards require certain expenditures to meet them.”
“This means that we have to continually go back to the Board of Supervisors, and that’s not fair or sustainable,” Gallaway added, noting that he’d appreciate if the General Assembly gave localities the ability to raise revenues through other means than real estate taxes.
Moran said that her presentation is only the first step in a long process that includes both the Board of Supervisors and the General Assembly.
“Every year we know that the story is not finished until we get to April and we have a much clearer picture in terms of our local revenues and a much clearer picture in terms of what the state revenues will look like after the General Assembly has gone through their process and taken action,” Moran said.
The School Board will hold a budget work session Jan. 22 and a public hearing on the proposed budget Jan. 29. The board is slated to adopt a budget Feb. 12. The budget then goes to the Board of Supervisors for consideration.