Albemarle seeks shift in state funding for schools
Legislation to change the state funding formula for Charlottesville and Albemarle’s education budgets has been introduced again before the General Assembly in Richmond.
The proposed budget amendment, known as the “Bell Amendment” and named after its patron Delegate Rob Bell (R-58), would take the two communities’ 1982 revenue sharing agreement into account when calculating each locality’s ability to pay for schools.
At stake is about $3 million per year that would be taken from schools in Charlottesville and handed to Albemarle County.
“We oppose the Bell Amendment,” Charlottesville School Board Chair Juan Wade said. “We feel like it’s unfair and it’s going to take basically three million dollars out of our coffers and put it in the County’s.”
Adopted in 1982, the revenue sharing agreement is a contract between the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County that prohibits Charlottesville from annexing parts of Albemarle in exchange for yearly payments from the County to the City.
Albemarle officials believe the state should take into account the fact it paid the city almost $17 million last year. The state’s funding formula for public schools is blind to that transfer, thus the county appears to have more revenues and the city less.
Bell said that he filed the legislation because it was “supported by the Albemarle School Board, as it has been in the past.”
In its November legislative packet, the Albemarle County School Board supported “adjusting Albemarle’s composite index to recognize its annual revenue sharing agreement payment to the City of Charlottesville.”
The local composite index is an indicator of wealth the Commonwealth uses to determine a locality’s ability to generate revenue.
Albemarle School Board Chair Ned Gallaway said the revenue sharing agreement impacts the schools.
“There are revenues that are not there that in [the state’s] calculation they’re saying are there,” Gallaway said. “We just want the state to take into account, in a fair way like they do with other localities, the actual revenues.”
But Charlottesville School Board member Ned Michie said Albemarle is trying to go behind a contractual agreement.
“They’re not seeking to change a term of the revenue sharing agreement, they’re going behind the agreement in effect and taking money out the backside,” Michie said.
In fiscal year 2013, Albemarle paid Charlottesville about $16.9 million, down from 2012’s payment of about $17.5 million.
If adopted, the amendment would only impact Charlottesville and Albemarle’s school funding.
To prevent its adoption, Charlottesville City Schools has hired Anne Leigh Kerr of Richmond-based law firm Troutman Sanders to lobby the General Assembly.
Kerr said the division has hired her each of the last three times the legislation has been put forward, and noted that the first phase of her work is to speak with the House Appropriations Subcommittee.
“The appropriations subcommittees make every effort to make opportunities for each amendment to be heard,” Kerr said, noting that while there have been instances where the Subcommittee has run out of time, she anticipates Delegate Bell having an opportunity to present the amendment.
As for the legislation’s fate, Kerr said, it’s tough to say for certain based upon previous years.
“We’ve seen the amendment not included in the budget the House has produced, and we’ve seen it in the budget that the House has produced,” Kerr said.
“And the year it was included in the House’s budget,” Kerr added, “when the budget conferees met to produce a final budget, it wasn’t included.”
Between fiscal years 2010-12, Charlottesville City Schools spent $63,141 in fees for Kerr, Director of Finance Ed Gillaspie told Charlottesville Tomorrow in an email. The division anticipates another $25,000 to $30,000 this year, Gillaspie said.
Both the House Appropriations Subcommittee and the Senate Finance Committee will be building their budgets until mid-February, at which point they will work to reconcile the differences between the two until the end of the legislative session.