Jackson Zimmerman, Albemarle County Public Schools’ director of finance

The Albemarle County School Board has closed a $404,797 funding gap and approved its $172.7 million operating budget for fiscal year 2017.

At the board’s meeting Thursday, Superintendent Pam Moran recommended final adjustments that included cuts to some compensation funds, alternative education contracts and professional development to balance the budget.

“There are only a couple of places to go to get that kind of money,” Moran told the School Board. “Keeping our class sizes at a very high quality and employee compensation were the community’s two top priorities for us.”

The $172,672,938 proposed operating budget is a 3.35-percent increase over the current year. More than 41 percent of the budget increase, or $2.3 million, will go to increasing staff salaries by about 2 percent overall.

The board voted 6-1 to approve the budget, with Jason Buyaki voting against.

“I disagree with my colleagues as to how we can reach a balanced budget,” Buyaki said after the vote. “I presented a number of alternative ways as to how we could reduce our request before we sent it to the Board of Supervisors.”

“County staff projected we would have around a $20 million shortfall in five years’ time, so my reductions were a sensible way to get us to a point we would not have a catastrophic failure if we didn’t have the revenues,” Buyaki said. “For example, we haven’t had a class size increase in five years’ time and certainly with our strong staff and curriculum we could accommodate that increase.”

The action follows a decision by the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday to raise real estate property taxes by a lesser amount than anticipated for calendar year 2016.

The county’s overall $375.5 million operating and capital budget was balanced in part with a 2-cent increase in the property tax rate, a half-cent less than was recommended by County Executive Tom Foley.

In March, supervisors voted 4-2 to advertise to the public a 2.5-cent increase in the tax rate, from 81.9 cents to 84.4 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The supervisors debated the tax rate for nearly three hours Wednesday and ultimately adopted a rate of 83.9 cents on a 5-1 vote. Supervisor Diantha McKeel voted against the move, saying she supported the higher rate in order to help fund the county’s growing needs.

The revenues available to the school division were reduced as a result, requiring the School Board to adjust its spending plan.

School staff observed that the share of revenues made available was less than what past policies would have delivered. Typically, new revenues received by the county have been divided by a so-called 60:40 split — with 60 percent of funds going to schools and 40 percent to local government.

The actual split of new revenues from this tax increase, officials said, delivers only 13 percent of new revenues , or $212,778, to schools for operational needs. Local government will receive about $1.4 million in new revenues and another almost $1.6 million will be allocated to the county’s capital budget.

Under the 60:40 split, the schools would have received almost $1 million.

“This is the third year in which the 60:40 split has not applied to new revenues … and we are very concerned about the long-term,” said Jackson Zimmerman, Albemarle County Public Schools’ director of finance. “It is not consistent with the long-term understanding both boards have had.”

“It sounds like an aspirational goal or rule-of-thumb,” said Kate Acuff, chairwoman of the School Board. “I think we may want to revisit this and refresh [the Board of Supervisors’] memory.”

“Most of public thinks we get 60 percent,” said School Board member Dave Oberg. “If that’s not the rule going forward, we should be clear about it.”

“This is clearly not the expectation that we have or that the public has,” he said. “It is our responsibility as a board to have a clear conversation with them.”

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