Albemarle School Board Members Barbara Massie Mouly (L) and Diantha McKeel discussing budget priorities with Assistant Superintendent Billy Haun

The initial steps of the Albemarle County Public Schools budgeting process have begun.

Last week, during a strategic budget planning session, the Albemarle County School Board directed staff to focus on modernizing education through professional development and enhancing learning spaces.

Assistant Superintendent Billy Haun said Albemarle is still reeling from past professional development cuts—which saw that portion of the budget slashed by 57 percent from 2008-2013—and School Board Chair Steve Koleszar said professional development is his top priority. 

“When you look at where all the dollars are going, it’s 83 percent staff, and so when you think about money spent on staff development, what we’re really doing is making that 83 percent that we’re spending on staff development more effective,” Koleszar said.

Board Member Ned Gallaway said he would like to see more individualized professional development.

“We do pockets of professional development throughout the calendar year,” Gallaway said. “When are we giving them time throughout the regular year to give them time to do their own reflection and reaction to their own work that they’re doing in the classroom?”

Additionally, Haun said, professional development is not limited to teachers, but includes teacher’s assistants, bus drivers, and many other staff members who help the division run efficiently.

Officials say they will use goals from the division’s new strategic plan, Horizon 2020, to steer the budget process.

“As you know, there is nothing that is more important to us than the idea that our strategic planning focus should drive how we use our resources,” Superintendent Dr. Pam Moran said. “How we use our resources is a representation of the work that we believe is the important work to do.”

Moran said the division’s approach to preparing a budget this year would emphasize future costs of programming decisions.  

“We would like to get in the business of being much more analytical and logical about areas that we develop out in terms of strategic planning,” Moran said.

“We’re not going to build a 5-year budget [for a specific initiative], but what we’re going to do is to make sure that you’ve got some big picture of what an initiative might entail if we built it out over 5 years,” Moran added. “We’ve not done that before…and we think it could really be an enhancement to our budgeting work here in Albemarle.”

Board members Pam Moynihan and Eric Strucko focused their attention on construction projects, but at two different scales.

“We’ve been discussing contemporary learning spaces for a long time, and we’ve already taken steps at some schools,” Moynihan said. “I’d hate to stop midstream and have some schools have these spaces and other schools not have these spaces.”

Strucko said the pace at which Albemarle is renovating or adding onto schools is too slow.

“I know it’s a matter of resources and living within our resources, so the issue that I’ve been kicking around awhile is how we get more resources, especially at a time when the cost of capital is historically low,” Strucko said.

“I think that while we are doing it, we’re doing it at a pace that we could pick up if we do some careful financial planning on the capital side,” Strucko added.

Koleszar said that the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee will have to balance investing Capital Improvement Plan funds on 21st century learning spaces versus accommodating new capacity, but said he would like to see 21st century spaces high up the priority list.

Board member Diantha McKeel said the School Board and Board of Supervisors could improve the CIP process altogether.

“My sense is that part of the problem we have with the CIP program itself is that every year we go into it and we’re told that we have a certain amount of money, so we match projects,” McKeel said.

“What we really ought to do with the Board of Supervisors, in my opinion, is sit down and say, ‘What is it we need, and what do we want to do long-term, and then how are we going to pay for it?’” McKeel added. “Because what we’re doing right now is what we can afford to do every year, and it has no vision to it, it has no plan to it.”

Moran said that it’s too early to tell what many of the specifics of the Superintendent’s Funding Request will look like, as the division is still waiting to hear about rate increases within the Virginia Retirement System, as well as state aid and local revenue numbers.

“There will be very much a changing dynamic in terms of the puzzle pieces, probably through us receiving the final Governor’s funding request to the General Assembly,” Moran said. “And then of course the General Assembly goes to work and they usually make changes, so it does really bounce around a little bit.”

The division expects a local revenue update on November 14, and the Superintendent will make her formal funding request to the School Board on January 16.