The Albemarle County School Board Tuesday voted 6-1 to send a $164.28 million funding request to the Board of Supervisors. This funding request exceeds anticipated revenues by $6.76 million.
Despite the decision to forward the request to the Board of Supervisors, the School Board is expecting to make cuts and will now begin to debate where they could reduce expenditures that will have the smallest impact on classroom instruction.
School Board Chair Ned Gallaway said it’s hard to prioritize what cuts the division could make until the revenue picture is clearer.
“I think the Board knows that at the end of the day there are going to be cuts, we just don’t know the extent or severity of them,” Gallaway said. “It wouldn’t be responsible to wait until we knew that to have conversations about what we could cut. You wouldn’t want in May to say ‘Oh, and by the way we’re going to cut that.’”
Board member Jason Buyaki voted against the motion, arguing that the division is educating students well during tough economic times, and that “the budget should reflect the times that we live in.”
“I’m not in favor of asking for a tax increase,” Buyaki said. “I’m in favor of actually getting some reductions, and then asking the Board of Supervisors to increase the percentage they fund schools with.”
One potential cost-saving area the division examined is increasing average class sizes.
Assistant Superintendent Billy Haun presented the School Board with the projected implications of upping class averages by 0.5, 0.75, and 1 student.
The largest concern, Haun said, is that as class sizes rise at the elementary level, there are fewer teachers available to provide intervention and remediation instruction for struggling students.
School Board member Eric Strucko said he does not want to up class sizes, citing that it adds to teacher workloads.
What’s more, Strucko said, is that adding more students per class could encourage teachers to replace more in-depth assignments, like essays, for shorter assignments in order to complete the additional grading.
The Board requested seeing new numbers that reflect kindergarten through third grade held harmless from increases, as well as kindergarten through fifth grade. The Board also asked to see the savings produced from upping average class size by 0.25 students.
Nearly 30 swim and dive athletes, parents, and coaches turned out to oppose cutting the $29,000 per year program that was listed as a potential area of savings.
The Board decided that swim and dive should not be singled out. Additionally, the Board requested a breakdown of the entire athletics budget.
“If we’re going to cut, or look at an athletic program for cutting, we better do an in-depth look at everything and see which one makes the most sense,” Gallaway said.
Gallaway also said that while he’s reluctant to advocate for increasing fees to participate, if forced to choose, he’d rather increase a fee than cut a program.
Strucko said if fees were to be raised, they should be raised across all sports, not just swim and dive.
At the January 30 Budget work session, Schools staff presented the School Board with three tiers of reductions, totaling just over $7 million in cuts that would impact almost 70 full-time positions.
Tier 1 reductions would reduce the budget by about $2.4 million and would affect 25.69 full-time positions.
Tier 1 reductions include increasing class size by 0.5 students, cutting the division’s Design 2015—an innovation and development fund—and Safe Schools grant, among others.
Increasing class size by 0.5 would slash about $1.5 million from the budget and impact 21.87 positions.
Cutting Design 2015 and Safe Schools would take remove another $500,000 collectively.
Eliminating swim and dive was originally a tier 1 reduction, but was removed at the School Board’s request.
Tier 2 reductions would cut about another $1.3 million and impact 12.47 additional full-time positions.
The second level of reductions include increasing class size by an additional 0.25 students (+ 0.75 students total), a five percent reduction in department and schools discretionary funds, and the elementary world language program.
Upping class size will save about $720,000, department and discretionary fund cuts save about $470,000, and the elementary world language program would reduce about $140,000 from the budget.
Tier 3 reductions would cut nearly $3.4 million and impact 27.64 full-time positions.
The third level of reductions include increasing class sizes by a total of one, reducing the proposed two percent teacher raise down to one percent, cutting a restoration of professional development funds, and eliminating bus pick-up for students living within a mile of his or her school.
Increasing class size by one saves almost $700,000, but affects 10.14 full-time positions.
Increasing teacher pay by only one percent saves about $760,000.
The request to restore professional development funds totals just over $400,000.
Eliminating bus pick up for students within a mile of his or her homes schools would cut about $590,000 and 16 full-time employees.
The School Board will hold another budget work session on Thursday, February 6.