County schools increase spending by $8M, face $691k revenue gap

Albemarle County schools Superintendent Pam Moran on Thursday presented a $180.8 million funding request for the fiscal year beginning July 1, an $8.1 million, or 4.7 percent, increase over this year’s $172.7 million budget.

The proposed spending plan faces a $691,000 revenue gap, which is less than half of the $1.5 million deficit the schools faced last year. Revenues are expected to rise $ million, or 4.3 percent, from $172.7 million to $180.2 million, documents showed.

“For the first time in a decade, we have expenses and revenues that are very close to being balanced,” Moran said. “This is quite different than where we thought we would be in the fall.”

The division expected a much steeper gap, but local revenue forecasts have improved since the fall, Moran said.

The spending plan includes staff raises, new teaching positions, the final phase of a three-year plan to get full-time nurses in elementary schools and $ million for Equity and Access, a new initiative to bolster outcomes for the economically and socially disadvantaged students.

Of the $8.1 million increase, more than $5.4 million will go to pay for mandated programs, salary increases and staffing growth, Moran said. 

The $5.4 million covers a $1.5 million increase in the system’s contribution to the Virginia Retirement System, $1.2 million more for employee health insurance premiums, $2.4 million for a 2 percent average salary increase for teachers and $800,000 for classified staff raises.

The VRS increase is unusual, Moran said, because it falls in the second year of the state biennial budget.

“Typically in the governor’s biennial budget, the first year you get an increase, the second year that tends to be flat,” she said. “This year in the second year of the biennium we have a significant increase in the expected contribution from the school division.”

The Equity and Access initiative includes $493,000 for pilot program that will create the Social-Emotional-Academic Development, or SEAD, team for the division’s four urban ring elementary schools.

SEAD will operate out of central office and is designed to take the burden of serving the needs of at-risk students off teachers.

The new program was triggered by increases in the proportion of economically disadvantaged students and students who are learning English, Moran said.

Since 2006, division documents showed, overall enrollment in the county schools has grown 8.3 percent, from 12,735 to 13,790. Over the same period, the number of poor students has climbed 67 percent, from in 2006-2007 to 3,954 this year.

The population of students who are learning English has risen 37 percent, from 1,016 in 2006-2007 to 1,393 in 2016-2017.

Third-grade Standards of Learning test pass rates in reading and math were more than 35 percentage points lower among economically-disadvantaged students than non-disadvantaged students, a report showed.

Division staff decided to pilot SEAD in the urban ring schools – Agnor-Hurt Elementary, Cale Elementary, Greer Elementary and Woodbrook Elementary – because those four schools contain more than half of the division’s economically-disadvantaged students.

“This decision is based on the fact that our four urban-ring elementary schools have our highest concentration of economically-disadvantaged students,” said Assistant Superintendent Matt Haas. “These four urban ring schools comprise 57 percent of our economically-disadvantaged students across the division.”

The county school board will has budget work sessions on Jan. 24 and Jan. 26 at 6:30 p.m. The board will host a public hearing on the budget Jan. 31.