County schools’ five-year financial plan predicts deficit & other school news

Early figures show that Albemarle County Public Schools are projecting a $6.5 million deficit for the 2015 fiscal year.

Officials briefed the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and school board in a joint budget meeting Thursday, where they identified that new revenues are not keeping pace with current expenditures and increasing state mandates.

“These are very preliminary numbers,” School Board Chair Steve Koleszar said. “We don’t have a Governor’s proposed budget yet, much less what the [General Assembly] will do with the budget.”

The most significant unknown is a possible mandatory increase to contributions into the Virginia Retirement System, which, school officials say, has been underfunded for years. Jackson Zimmerman, Albemarle’s Executive Director of Fiscal Services, said the division is using a percent VRS rate increase as a figure for planning purposes. This translates into a $2.6 million jump in costs to the division. 

Figures also show an expected $2.4 million decrease in the division’s fund balance—monies appropriated to the school division, but not spent in a given fiscal year. The balance is expected to drop from $3.6 million in fiscal year 2014 to $ million in fiscal year 2015. An additional $740,000 in cuts will come in fiscal years 2016 to 2019, projections show.

While the financial projections show deficits, both the school division and local government are required by law to ultimately approve balanced budgets.

Of additional concern, Koleszar said, is the division’s increasing enrollment paired with state funding levels.

Due to large kindergarten numbers, Albemarle is predicting an enrollment increase of about 550 students in the next five years. About 20 new full-time teachers are expected to be hired in the next two fiscal years, and about 14 in the three years thereafter, projections show.

Additionally, the plan assumes a two percent salary increase for teachers and classified staff in fiscal year 2015.

The five-year plan does not contain funding for any new instructional initiatives.

The projections shared Thursday show state and local revenues increasing in each of the next five years, but school officials said those increases don’t cover the division’s existing expenditures.

Albemarle has also seen its numbers of students who receive free and reduced lunch rise to about 28 percent of the student body. Koleszar said high numbers of this student population drive costs up because of the county’s staffing formula.

“We more generously staff schools based on the number of free and reduced lunch students that they have, so that can be a significant driver of additional staff,” Koleszar said. “With that change, even if our enrollment weren’t growing, our formula would say that we need more staff to accommodate the change in free and reduced lunch students.”

Zimmerman said that the staffing formula has recently been updated, but is yet to be implemented.

The County is now awaiting Governor Bob McDonnell’s budget.

Read the full story here:

Food program sparks student interest in eating local

Last week, students across Virginia celebrated the 5th annual Farm to School Week, which highlights the locally-sourced food our school cafeterias serve. The Charlottesville-based Local Food Hub participated by offering a tasting of local apple varieties at Walker Upper-Elementary School.

Since 2009, the Local Food Hub has served as the middle-man between farmers, who would like a reliable way to sell their provisions, and institutions like the schools, who would like to buy local on a larger scale.

Emily Manley, the Local Food Hub’s Marketing Director, said schools face myriad challenges when trying to shop local, but that the Food Hub’s partnerships with schools are growing.

“In 2009, it was a bushel here, a sack of potatoes there, and now it has really grown into an organized program,” Manley said.

Mary Burruss, who works in Nutrition Services at Walker, said the program is helping students become more adventurous eaters.

Read the full story here: