Albemarle School Board to address $246,000 shortfall

After months of financial planning, the Albemarle County School Board is nearing the adoption of a budget for the 2016 fiscal year.

Thursday’s budget conversation was the School Board’s first since the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday raised real estate property tax rate by 2 cents, to 81.9 cents per $100 assessed value. However, despite the tax hike, Albemarle County Public Schools is still $246,313 short of its $167.2 million funding request.

“It’s one of the smallest deficits we’ve had to close in a long time,” said Phil Giaramita, the school division’s spokesman.

School Board members Barbara Massie Mouly and Pam Moynihan were not in attendance. As a result, the board opted to defer debate to April 23, when it is expected to adopt a budget.

During Thursday’s conversation, schools staff and the board discussed potential uses for about $1.5 million in one-time money the division has in its fund balance and in health insurance claims savings it realized this year.

Staff suggested using the one-time money in four areas: teacher salary increases beginning in the first quarter of the year; a one-time payment to employees to offset rising health insurance costs, which could total $75 per participant; a system to convert and maintain electronic student records; and the replacement of a library management system.

Currently, the School Board plans to implement a 2 percent raise for teachers and a 2.3 percent raise for classified staff. Starting those raises for teachers in the first quarter of the new fiscal year would cost $359,219.

Replacing the student records system would cost $60,000 and would only digitize Albemarle High School’s records. Superintendent Pam Moran said some of the records are taking up valuable space in school division buildings.

Vince Scheivert, the division’s chief information officer, said that the most laborious part of the project would be deciding what to keep, and estimated that it would most likely cost between $300,000 and $400,000 to convert all of the records.

School Board member Steve Koleszar asked why the records need to be kept.

Jennifer Johnston, the School Board’s clerk, said that, by state law, the division is required to keep gradation records for 50 years.

Replacing the library system — which would cost $120,000 — would improve efficiency among librarians and service for students, Scheivert said.

“The library management system that we’re currently operating on is about seven to nine years old and it doesn’t accept any new updates,” Scheivert said. “Modernizing would allow us to operate in the same way the [local] libraries work, where while resources might be in different libraries, we’ll still have the ability to assign those resources out.”

School Board Chairman Ned Gallaway said he’d like to see some one-time money earmarked for the fine arts pathways at the high school, as well as for fees for programs such as Destination Imagination, a creative problem-solving program.

With respect to the shortfall, staff recommended the gap be cut from the schools’ funding request, rather than using one-time money to cover operating costs. Among some of the items staff recommended include cutting funding for growth, which means increasing class sizes; making reductions at the central office; eliminating planning for world language expansion in elementary schools; cutting professional development; and eliminating the addition of school nurses at some elementary schools.

The local government’s contribution to the schools is expected to be $114,033,502, which is a $4.2 million increase over last year’s local transfer.

Albemarle County Public Schools’ fiscal year 2016 funding request is percent higher than the 2015 adopted budget. Two of the major factors that contributed to the increase, schools officials have said, are enrollment growth and the desire to raise teacher pay.

Since 2010, enrollment has grown by almost 600 students, which is about the size of Jack Jouett Middle School. Next year, Albemarle is expecting more than 300 new students, and the number of English as a second language students — who have higher per pupil costs than traditional students — is growing at a rate of 6 percent, compared with the entire division’s growth rate of 2.3 percent.

The division also will see $2.2 million in new health benefits costs and plans to see an increase of $500,000 in Comprehensive Services Act spending — for almost $1.9 million total — which provides services to students with extreme special needs.

Last year, to balance the budget, the schools cut $3.9 million from their request. To accomplish this, the School Board upped class size averages by 0.2 students, reduced salary increases for staff from 2 percent to 1 percent, defunded its share of pre-K funding for Bright Stars and reduced discretionary funds for all schools and departments by 5 percent.

The School Board plans to meet at 6:30 p.m. April 23 in Room 241 of the County Office Building on McIntire Road.