Despite a sunnier budget picture this year, Albemarle County Schools officials warned Monday that the division faces dire challenges over the next five years in the form of buildings that are out dated and over capacity.
Inside five years, more than half of Albemarle public school students will be in overcrowded classrooms, said School Board Chairwoman Kate Acuff.
“We face challenges that threaten our vitality. First and foremost of those challenges is an underfunded capital improvement plan,” she said. “There is a direct line of sight from the CIP to every child’s classroom.”
At a joint meeting of the Albemarle School Board and Board of Supervisors, to discuss the division’s budget, school board members painted a bleak picture.
“We cannot redistrict our way out of this problem,” Acuff said.
Sourcing the funds to build additions officials say are necessary will not be easy.
The Albemarle general government faces a tough road in the coming years. Foley’s proposed budget is based on a 2.5 cent real estate property tax increase, as property values did not increase as much as county officials had anticipated last year.
County staff estimated that property values would grow by about 2.25 percent, but values only climbed 1.84 percent. At a budget presentation Feb. 19, Foley said he expects a $3.3 million county budget gap going into Fiscal Year 2018.
With county money tight, the school’s capital improvement wish list will remain largely unfulfilled.
Left out of the county’s proposed five-year CIP are an addition to Woodbrook Elementary, an addition to Albemarle High School, classroom modernizations, and renovation and modernization of some classrooms at Western Albemarle.
The proposed CIP does include a plan to modernize classrooms and the library at Red Hill Elementary, according to county documents.
Adding capacity to Albemarle High School is not necessarily the division’s first choice, Acuff said. School officials have long talked about a new high school for northern Albemarle, but the idea did not make it into the requested CIP.
“When we cannot even get money for an addition to Woodbrook … Talking about $80 million to $100 million for a new high school, it didn’t seem prudent to include it,” she said.
Overcrowding in the county schools is not a new problem, said Supervisor Ann Mallek.
“Times change, and then they don’t,” she said. “In 1967 there were 1600 of us at AHS, changing classes was exciting for sure. It’s not a new problem unfortunately, but we need to find a way to address these things.”
Supervisor Diantha McKeel called for members of each board to speak more often and be more adaptable to change.
“The other thing I would encourage us to do between boards is to be more nimble and flexible,” she said. “If we could figure out how to be more nimble and quick in our response, we could not only not get into these situations, but also save taxpayer dollars.”
The schools’ $174.2 million funding request includes $7 million in new funds, a 4.2-percent increase over the current budget.
The school division presented the request with a $1.54 million spending gap. Albemarle County Executive Tom Foley’s proposed general government budget cut that gap to $1.08 million, school officials said.
More than 70 percent of the division’s requested increase is earmarked for teacher and staff salaries. Under the plan, division staff would receive a 2-percent average salary increase next fiscal year.
The division also faces a $2.34 million increase in health care costs, and more than $400,000 in increased obligations to the Virginia Retirement Service.
The school division’s spending gap is more than $5 million lower than in 2014, and is less than half of the $3.8 million gap the schools faced last year.
As the cost of running the division has risen, officials said, the inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending figure is still lower than it was in 2008.
Over the same period, state funding for the division has dropped 2.66 percent, while the burden on local dollars has gone up by just over 2.7 percent.
Staffing levels at the division have steadily increased since 2008, officials said. The division currently employs 11.68 school-based staff members per 100 students, as opposed to 11.55 in 2008.