Following last week’s work session in which teachers spoke out for bigger raises, the Albemarle County School Board asked staff to bring more information about starting raises earlier in the year to an upcoming meeting. The board, however, did not make any formal decisions on the matter.
Tuesday saw the board hold the fourth of five scheduled budget work sessions. The funding request is scheduled to be completed by Feb. 12, when the body will submit it to the Board of Supervisors.
In January, Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle schools, presented the School Board with a $166.9 million funding request, which represents a 4 percent jump from the current year’s $160.4 million budget.
During the five-year financial planning season last fall, the Board of Supervisors and the School Board proposed 2 percent raises for teachers and 2.3 percent raises for classified staff — a decision that comes with a $1.3 million price tag to the school division.
To reduce a projected $3.1 million shortfall against revenues for fiscal year 2016, the two boards agreed to start those raises in the middle of next fiscal year.
Moran said that maintaining competitive compensation packages is key to not only recruiting high-quality educators, but also in keeping effective teachers from leaving for higher-paying divisions.
“That is certainly on my mind for the future,” Moran said.
But School Board member Pam Moynihan said that while other school divisions might pay more, their cost of living is higher too.
Last budget year, the School Board and Board of Supervisors cut proposed 2 percent raises for staff in half to help balance the budget.
According to the Virginia Department of Education, classroom teacher salaries rose 1.3 percent in fiscal year 2015. In the same year, assistant principals and principals saw their wages grow by 1.36 percent and 2.14 percent, respectively.
In addition to a follow-up debate about compensation, the conversation focused on the administration, attendance and health, building services and transportation. Those areas total just over $37 million, or about 22 percent of the budget.
Eileen Gomez, the division’s school nurse coordinator, told the board that the division would benefit from more school nurses.
“If we were to increase the nurses in all the schools to full-time, it would cost about $165,000, but it would only cost $83,000 to increase only in the top five schools,” Gomez said, noting that some nurses see 50 children per day, serve medically complex children, and rarely have time for training or educational programming with students.
Additionally, the school nurses care for preschool students.
“They can sometimes be more time consuming than the other children,” Gomez said.
“All of our elementary schools are seeing more kids than ever,” Moran said, noting that the division’s enrollment growing. “We’re having to address a level of need that is greater than what we saw 10 years ago.”
Joe Letteri, Albemarle County’s director of building of services, said he anticipates utility costs will rise by about $110,000 next fiscal year.
Electric rates are estimated to jump by 3.5 percent, while water and irrigation costs are both expected to increase by 3 percent, school division documents show.
If the additional funds aren’t allocated, Letteri said the division could limit after-hours building use, keep temperatures in the division’s buildings cooler and wait until July 1, 2016, to fill its oil tanks if the heating services account has been drained.
Capital expenditures slated for the upcoming fiscal year include $2.5 million for HVAC replacements at five schools; $3.2 million for comprehensive maintenance projects such as roofing and paving; and $650,000 for a new lab for Western Albemarle High School’s Environmental Sciences Academy.
“There may be some places where we can do some belt-tightening with respect to energy usage in the coming years,” Moran said.
“We’re talking about going to LED lighting. There are a whole host of ways we’re looking at lowering our consumption,” Letteri said.
William Deane, assistant director of transportation for the schools, said the department’s biggest challenge is staffing.
Non-retirement, voluntary turnover is about 10 percent annually, or 16 to 20 employees, Deane said.
“We’re seeing a rise in turnover and a decrease in applications,” he said. “Our No. 1 tool in attracting and retaining employees is the benefits.”
For next year, the department is requesting two new bus drivers, three new specialized bus drivers — who serve special-needs students — and one additional transit aide. Failing to do so, Deane said, likely would result in overcrowded buses and inefficient bus routes, which can lead to increased behavior issues and referrals.
Diesel fuel is currently budgeted at $3.14 per gallon, and Deane estimates that the department will spend about $100,000 less than anticipated this fiscal year.
Christina Pitsenberger, director of child nutrition for Albemarle’s schools, suggested raising the price for school meals next year.
Currently, Albemarle spends $1.40 per breakfast, $2.40 per lunch for elementary students and $2.65 for lunch for secondary students.
The proposal increases breakfast prices by five cents and lunch prices by ten cents.
The board will vote on this measure as part of its overall budget, and Moran said that if approved, communications will be sent to parents to give them enough time to plan for the change.
Moran noted that the school division does not contribute funds to child nutrition, and that 50 percent of the department’s funds come from federal and state subsidies and 50 percent from sales.
“[The department] is in essence self-sustaining,” Jackson Zimmerman, the division’s finance director, said.
As the school division’s food has become healthier under the National School Lunch Program, it has impacted participation at some of the schools, Moran said.
Pitsenberger said it’s mostly limited to the 100 percent whole grains, and noted that Broadus Wood Elementary School soon will be participating in the National School Breakfast Program.
The School Board will discuss the budget again at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the County Office Building on McIntire Road.