Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent Pam Moran (R) answers budget questions from the School Board

If forced to make cuts, the Albemarle County School Board wants to do so as far from the classrooms as possible.

However, with a financial forecast that, at best, would leave the division $2.4 million short, that goal is becoming more and more challenging.

School Board member Eric Strucko said he’d like to find some savings in each school’s individual allocation, “in combination with reducing broader initiatives.”

“In a crisis budget situation where we’re looking at some very dramatic things, perhaps we can get to our $2.5 million one school at a time, one $500-$1,500 contribution at a time,” Strucko said. “That way we can preserve the teachers’ salaries and preserve the class sizes.”

But some principals said there isn’t much left to trim from a school’s allotment.

“I have a very at-risk school,” Woodbrook Elementary School Principal Lisa Molinaro said. “I get about 50 percent of my students paying for their field trips, so I offset that cost. And we as a [school division] said that was something we wanted to do for our students.”

 “If I’m operating with a lot less money,” Molinaro added, “my kids aren’t going on field trips, because I can’t say ‘You get to go, but you don’t get to go.’”

 Additionally, Molinaro said her kindergarten population doubled this year from two classrooms to four.

 Outfitting kindergarten classrooms not being a cheap endeavor, Molinaro said, she values the freedom to move funds from one area of her school’s budget to another.

Burley Middle School Principal Jim Asher agreed.

“As we get closer to the end of the year we begin to see where we had some breathing room, where we can move some money around,” Asher said.

Asher also said unforeseen problems arise, citing a mysterious mold problem that hit the school’s band instruments.

“We had to have close to $3,000 worth of repairs, and on top of that is just the normal upkeep of instruments,” Asher said. “It’s much cheaper to clean a flute than it is to clean a tuba.”

What’s more, Asher said, is that the fee companies charge to clean instruments is on the rise. And while the school charges students a cleaning fee, the large free and reduced lunch population doesn’t pay that fee, which adds costs for the school.

 To gauge what budget items teachers valued, Carrie Taylor, a Physics Teacher at Western Albemarle High School and member of the Teacher Advisory Committee, met with teachers, attempting to offer their own accounting.  

The things that they valued, Taylor said, are protecting class sizes, teacher salaries, individual school budgets, and the elementary foreign language program.

Taylor said the teachers would cut Design 2015—the division’s innovation fund—the Safe Schools Healthy Students Grant, the restoration of learning resources such as library books, and professional development. 

Strucko plans to analyze each school allotment and present savings at the School Board’s next meeting.

Early in the budget process, the Board of Supervisors and School Board agreed on a two percent raise for all employees.

There was talk in previous meetings of giving raises only to non-teachers who fall below the midpoint or below a certain dollar amount.

Lorna Gerome, Albemarle’s Human Resources Director, said doing so could hinder commonality, which is local government and the school division’s attempt to pay employees equally for similar jobs.

“It’s incredibly important for us to have the office associate in the finance department be treated the same as the office associate in fiscal services or out in one of the schools,” Gerome said.

School Board member Pam Moynihan asked if the Board of Supervisors would lower local government’s salary increase if the School Board lowered its portion.

Gerome said that discussion has not yet occurred.

At the April 9 work session, County Executive Tom Foley said he would be open to “any other possible solutions that might not lay off teachers but also figure out a way to catch up on salaries, possibly by using one-time money.”

Reducing a proposed pay increase for all teachers and staff by one percent could decrease the school division’s request by as much as $1.1 million on the low end and $2.2 million on the high end.

“We talk about commonality, but the local side of government are not facing cuts,” School Board Chair Ned Gallaway said. “The County Executive brought forward a request, and that request has grown through the process. We had a gap existing and that gap may grow.”

To grasp how the school division would be impacted by different tax rate scenarios, on Wednesday the Supervisors requested to see a variety of tax rates below the advertised rate of 80.8 cents per $100 dollars of assessed value.

The rates include 80 cents, 79.3 cents, 78.8 cents, and 78.3 cents—all figures that would leave the school division with a deficit of between $3.7 and $5.8 million.

The schools would receive a dedicated portion of the tax increase under the 80.8, 80, and 79.3 cent rates. 

Under the 78.8 and 78.3 cent rates, none of the increase would be dedicated exclusively to the schools, although the schools would receive their portion under the County’s formula, which sends 60 percent of new revenue to the schools and 40 percent to local government.

In March the Supervisors advertised a tax rate of 80.8 cents—a 4.2 cent increase—which would leave the schools $2.4 million short.

The Supervisors cannot adopt a rate higher than the advertised figure.

Foley suggested a 78.3-cent tax rate—a 1.7 cent increase from the current rate of 76.6 cents—in his recommended budget.

The Board of Supervisors will adopt a tax rate on Tuesday, April 15.