Albemarle Supervisors review schools’ budget
With the Albemarle School Board’s 2016 funding request in hand, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors heard from school division leaders Thursday about their rationale for the spending plan.
“This funding request is a needs-based request, and it is driven by our strategic plan with the goal of keeping up with the service levels that we currently offer,” School Board Chairman Ned Gallaway said.
Thursday’s meeting was the second of four budget work sessions that the Board of Supervisors plans to hold on next fiscal year’s budget. It also was the first meeting with the School Board since it advanced a $167.2 million budget to the supervisors.
Albemarle schools serve 13,677 students from 60 countries and who speak 80 different languages, officials said. The school division is currently facing an anticipated funding shortfall against expected revenues of about $880,000.
If the gap isn’t closed, Gallaway said the School Board could cut from central office staff at the superintendent’s discretion, choose not to fund enrollment growth — which generally results in increased class sizes — and reduce new resource requests, such as professional development and an increase in the number of school nurses.
This year, Tom Foley, Albemarle’s county executive, presented an approximately $371 million spending plan to supervisors, which marks a 5.3 percent increase over the current fiscal year’s $352 million budget.
Gallaway said some of the major the drivers of the school division’s funding request are maintaining competitive salaries for teachers and funding enrollment growth.
“The net take-home pay now is about 6.3 percent less now than in 2010,” School Board member Kate Acuff said.
Part of the School Board’s budget includes starting salary increases Oct. 1, rather than Jan. 1, 2016, which was the date the Board of Supervisors and School Board had been using for planning purposes, because that is when staff members are expected to see a rise in health insurance costs. Gallaway said the School Board plans to use about $690,000 from its fund balance to move the increase to October.
Supervisor Ann H. Mallek questioned from where the additional funds would come and asked why the schools would move the date of the raise when the county and the schools employ pay commonality, which means they attempt to pay employees equally for similar jobs.
“My assumption is that we want to get to the same spot in terms of salary increases in both organizations,” Foley said.
This year, Albemarle saw 122 more students than anticipated walk through its doors. Next year, school officials are expecting another 190 new students. What’s more, the division is seeing growing numbers of English as a Second or Other Language and free and reduced-price lunch students.
Increased enrollment raises costs because it requires additional staffing, Gallaway said, but these student populations require additional instructional services, which further drives up the need for funding.
Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd argued that despite the cries of decreased funding from the state, the Board of Supervisors has increased its funding to the schools each year.
Gallaway pointed to a decrease in state funding as a major reason the school division is facing a shortfall. In 2008, Albemarle received $3,653 per pupil per year. This year that number was $3,396, or $257 less per child.
“But we’re at the point where we don’t have much left to cut,” Acuff said.
Board Chairwoman Jane Dittmar said she wants Bright Stars — Albemarle’s pre-K program for at-risk 4-year-olds — funded to a level where all matching funds available at the state level are used. She also said she she’d like to explore pre-K funding further.
“It might help with the kids who are [receiving] free and reduced lunch,” Dittmar said. “That has dividends not only for later in life for our citizens, but for [the schools].”
On the capital improvement side, Foley’s proposed budget $10.2 million in for schools.
One of the school division’s largest plans on its capital wish list is a 10-year, nearly $70 million learning space modernization project, which is aimed at updating classrooms and media centers in all of Albemarle’s school buildings.
However, to balance his budget, Foley has suggested cutting funds from the school division’s project, Acquisition of Conservation Easements program and from sidewalk construction funds.
According to Foley’s plan, those three areas would receive funding in fiscal year 2016, but would not receive funding in the following years without new sources of revenue.
During a budget work session Tuesday, however, the Board of Supervisors discussed the potential of funding the learning spaces, sidewalks and parks infrastructure projects through a 2016 bond referendum. No formal decision was made on the matter.
Under the plan, Western Albemarle High School would see the construction of a lab to serve students in the division’s new Environmental Studies Academy.
Albemarle’s budget includes a $132,829, or 4.8 percent, increase to information technology spending. Those funds include a senior systems analyst.
A recommended 1-cent real estate tax increase in the budget is expected to go toward expanding fire and rescue services. The increase would bring Albemarle’s tax rate to 80.9 cents per $100 of assessed value.
The spending plan also includes a $210,914, or 19.9 percent, increase, to the Commonwealth’s Attorney office. Those funds would fund salaries, benefits and operations for the assistant county attorney and legal services assistant positions that were added in fiscal year 2015.
Supervisors have until March 3 to advertise a tax rate, which is slated to go to an April 8 public hearing. A public hearing on the budget is expected to be held April 1, and the Supervisors plan to adopt the budget April 14.