Public schools in Albemarle County could face a funding gap as high as $4.4 million next year officials said Wednesday during a joint meeting of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and School Board.
“The significance of the financial situation is that both local government and the school division will have a difficult time maintaining current levels of service with the current revenue outlook,” said Ned Gallaway, chairman of the Albemarle School Board.
The two boards met to discuss the county’s projected financial picture over the next five years. The five-year financial plan is a planning tool used to show how local government services compare to revenue projections.
The meeting was the first since county staff last week informed the Board of Supervisors that Albemarle is facing an $8.1 million gap between expenditures and expected revenues for the upcoming fiscal year. By 2020, that gap is expected to rise to $26 million. Those figures include school division funding.
During Wednesday’s talks, Dean Tistadt, chief information officer for Albemarle County Public Schools, presented the boards with two possible funding scenarios.
The first scenario, which is based on the current real estate property tax rate, would cover costs associated with healthcare, inflation and state mandates.
“But we wouldn’t be able to give any salary increases for five years or add any staff to meet growth, and almost every employee would take home less pay because they’ll have to pay increased healthcare costs,” said Phil Giaramita, the school division’s spokesmen.
The first scenario also would fail to meet the school division’s current capital improvement program, Giaramita said.
The second scenario, which would leave the school division $4.4 million short, covers the costs outlined in the first scenario, and would provide a 2 percent salary increase for teachers and a 2.3 percent raise for classified staff. Those pay raises, however, would occur in the middle of the fiscal year.
Among the school division’s funding challenges are probable 10 percent jumps in healthcare costs, as well as changing demographics and growing enrollment.
Between fiscal year 2011 and fiscal year 2015, the division’s free and reduced lunch population grew by about 800 students, Tistadt said. With intervention and remediation services, the division spends about 12 percent more per pupil on free and reduced lunch students, Giaramita added.
The same is true for the English as a second language student population, which has grown by about 175 students over the last five years. The schools spend about $2,000 more per year on these students than on traditional students.
Tistadt said one reason for the growth in the students who are not English-proficient is due to the placement of students by the International Rescue Committee.
At one time, the committee placed about 80 percent of its students in Charlottesville and 20 percent in Albemarle, but Tistadt said that distribution has flipped due to the amount of affordable housing in the county.
“I think our schools have been the canary in the mines predicting this,” Supervisor Diantha McKeel said. “As Charlottesville is going through their urban renewal and revitalization, we’re seeing the difference in Albemarle County, certainly in the urban ring.”
Additionally, the school division is anticipating more students walking through its doors next year.
“Next year we think we’re going to go up almost 300 students, which is larger than some of our elementary schools,” Giaramita said.
The two boards also discussed local government and school division capital needs.
In August, the School Board endorsed a capital improvement plan totaling about $104 million over the next five years. The plan called for about $13 million in fiscal year 2016, and includes both ongoing and new projects.
Ongoing projects include general building maintenance, instructional technology and school bus replacements. New science labs for Western Albemarle High School’s Environmental Science Academy — totaling $625,000 — and a $1.1 million modernization of Red Hill Elementary School are some of the new projects proposed.
The bulk of the schools’ capital wish list is a $70 million classroom modernization project. Spread out over 10 years, the plan will update learning spaces in all 25 school buildings.
Schools staff has championed the initiative, arguing that while the division’s buildings have been well maintained, little has been done to address classroom design elements, such as furniture, access to natural light and the physical shape of classrooms.
“Every school that I’ve seen needs some major modernization work,” said School Board member Pam Moynihan. “At Albemarle High School, some of the desks are falling apart. We shouldn’t have our children in these kinds of conditions.”
The supervisors, however, must balance the schools’ needs against other local government capital projects, such as about $40 million for court facilities and almost $64 million for public safety projects.
Despite the competing needs, Trevor Henry, director of the school system’s facilities development, said the learning spaces modernization project received a lot of attention during the Technical Review Committee’s evaluation process.
“It’s an important request, a high-priority request from the schools,” Henry said. “There are some labs that haven’t been touched in 40 years.”
However, Henry said the Technical Review Committee will ask the schools to revisit whether the project should be classified as maintenance/replacement or a new project, as that will affect how the initiative is scored in the capital improvement plan.
In August, the schools officials also proposed an approximately 300 seat addition on Woodbrook Elementary School to address capacity issues in the urban ring.
“We’re going to have several schools over capacity in the urban ring if we don’t get the Woodbrook addition built,” School Board member Steve Koleszar said, noting that falling behind enrollment would mean using trailers — an avenue the School Board would rather not pursue.
Gallaway said that even with the additions at Agnor-Hurt and Greer elementary schools the division is falling behind.
“It’s a growing county, it’s a big county with a lot of needs on both sides of government … so how you balance that is the question for the boards,” Giaramita said.
Members of the Board of Supervisors will begin holding town hall meetings next week to receive feedback from the public on the five-year financial plan.