Albemarle predicts nearly $7 million deficit & other school news

Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent Pam Moran presented the School Board with a $ million budget proposal Thursday. The needs-based plan represents a nearly six percent increase from last year’s $155.3 million budget.

However, with revenues projected to grow by only one percent, to $157.3 million, Albemarle is predicting a deficit of nearly $7 million. Among the factors contributing to the projected deficit, Moran said, are mandates, enrollment increases, and a slashing of the division’s fund balance. 

The division is responsible for an additional $2.3 million to meet new Virginia Retirement System requirements, and, as directed by the School Board, another $3.2 million for a two percent raise in employee pay and to support projected increases in health insurance premiums.

Enrollment is projected to jump 130 students next year, which translates to a 669 student increase since the 2008-09 school year.

Moran also said that the division’s fund balance has been diminished in recent years, citing a $1.7 million transfer as directed by the Board of Supervisors, and a $1.5 million loss in savings due to a 75 percent drop in employee turnover. Employee turnover and retirements can create payroll savings since new staff are often hired at a lower position on the pay scale.

In case new revenue doesn’t come, Board member Steve Koleszar said he’d like to see the implications of a staffing formula adjustment that would increase class sizes by about one student. Assistant Superintendent Billy Haun said that would result in one additional student in elementary classrooms, and up to three new students in some middle and high school classes, depending on the subject.

Board member Eric Strucko said he wants to see any cuts made outside the classroom.

The School Board will begin discussing the budget in detail on January 23, and there will be a public hearing on January 30.

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School funding commission completes report

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Sustainable School Funding has finalized its report for Charlottesville City Council and the School Board. The report divided the findings into near- and long-term categories. Three of the five near-term possible actions include tax increases.

The Commission said that they have not prioritized any of the specific options. The near-term “action alternatives” include increasing the meals, real estate, and lodging taxes, adjusting tuition rates for out-of-district students, and finding operational savings.

A one percent meals tax increase would net the City an additional $2 million in new revenue, budget documents show. Raising the real estate tax rate one cent would fetch about $550,000 in new revenue, documents show.

The long-term options include increasing the tax base by boosting middle-income housing in City neighborhoods, sharing services with the University of Virginia and charging UVA for other services, collaboration with Albemarle schools, and the closure of an elementary school.

The report argues that, over time, increasing the amount of middle-income housing would strengthen the City’s tax base and boost enrollment. The Commission also estimates between $1.5 and $2 million per year in operational savings would be realized from closing one elementary school.

The Commission will present the report to City Council and the School Board on January 28.

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New model for CATEC shared with public

Last week, Charlottesville-based consultants The Bridge, Ltd.—who are leading Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center’s strategic planning process—unveiled for public comment a new model for CATEC that is based upon a close relationship with Piedmont Virginia Community College. The new design restructures the technical education center into five institutes and a “Self-development Foundations” program that aims to teach basic workforce skills.

The five institutes include skilled trades, customer service, healthcare services, manufacturing and information technology, and early childhood education. The proposed model also features a skills assessment center to align incoming students with their interests, a program design center for curriculum development and institutional research, and the potential for including distance education.

CATEC began its strategic planning process in September, when it awarded a $60,000 contract to the Bridge.

The Bridge will present the model to the CATEC Board on January 21 and will have another meeting for public input in February.

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