Ann Brown, Elliott Weiss, and Steve Campbell discuss population projections during Tuesday's Blue Ribbon Commission meeting

Steve Campbell wonders if one solution to Charlottesville City School’s recent funding hardships lies in the City’s increasing housing stock.

“The question to me is, where are we in the next 10 years or 5 years, and how accurately do you think you can forecast?” Campbell asked City staff at Tuesday’s Blue Ribbon Commission meeting at CitySpace. “Our ability to get a handle on [population projections] for the next 5 years either exacerbates our problems and makes this a more critical function or it actually by nature solves it.”

The Blue Ribbon Commission is a 13-member panel appointed by Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones to develop a sustainable funding model for the City’s schools.

Recent decreases in state and federal funding has left CCS to cut internally—slashing $1.4 million since 2010—and to ask the city council for one-time monies in addition to the schools’ annual allotment to balance the schools’ budget: $1.8 million from the General Fund and $1.49 million of the schools’ capital improvement money to balance 2013’s budget, and $2.63 million to balance the schools’ budget in 2014.

Campbell, a former Chairman of the Charlottesville School Board, said that the division’s average size has remained at about 4,000 students over the last 30 years, and speculates that recent increases in residential development might be good news for the schools.

Campbell said the thousands of housing units under construction could “be the biggest building boom we’ve ever had and it should change our population.”

“If that is a fairly affluent change, then the tax base will change dramatically,” Campbell added. “We suddenly go back to being more of a middle-income to affluent school population and with a bigger tax base to solve it.”

But Jones said it’s hard to predict what type of impact residential development will have on schools, citing West Main Street’s planned 189-bedroom apartment building, The Standard, and the adjacent 595-bedroom Flats at West Village, as examples.

“It’s going to have a positive impact in one degree because we’re not putting a ton of students into the school system, so on the services side you’re not going to see a huge increase there,” Jones said. “But on the other side you’re going to have 1,000 undergrads primarily living across the street from each other, and you’re going to see West Main Street grow.”

“So now we’re thinking about how we service West Main Street in a way that we haven’t in the past, so that could mean more police officers,” Jones added.

University of Virginia School of Medicine Professor Dr. Matthew Trowbridge said that having a few assumptions could help the process.

“In research you do this all the time,” Trowbridge said. “There are things you aren’t going to know, but you have to say “here is the assumption,” and we build a model that we will utilize in that space.”

While staff will compile data for the next Commission meeting, Jones reaffirmed the importance of restraint when dealing with forecasted numbers.

“We try to be very conservative in our approach because you don’t know what the market is going to do,” Jones said. “Unfortunately what happened 4-6 years ago with a lot of places around the country is that they were banking on 5-10 percent increases [in assessed property value] and they got themselves in trouble investing in things that they just simply couldn’t sustain once the market fell.”

In addition to population and tax revenue projections, Commission members also requested staff deliver information on the City’s expense and revenue structures, the areas in which the schools are perceived to be strong, budget comparisons to school divisions of similar size, and homeownership rates.

The Commission hopes to deliver possible solutions to the city council in December.

The next meeting is on October 1.