Thanks to a last-minute allocation from the Board of Supervisors, 32 of Albemarle’s neediest young people will be attending preschool next year.
The decision came during a Wednesday meeting in which the Supervisors approved a FY15 total operating budget of almost $352 million.
“I think it’s really important to point out that schools and local government have a lot of collaborative efforts here in the County,” said Lori Allshouse, Albemarle’s Budget Director. “Many of them are very historical, they go back in time and we work well as a team.”
Established in 1996, Bright Stars provides comprehensive social services to at-risk preschoolers and their families until the child completes 5th grade. The program is a joint effort between Albemarle County Public Schools and Albemarle’s Department of Social Services.
In FY 13, the program served 169 preschoolers and 559 alumni. The students attend Albemarle’s elementary schools, and each student is assigned a Family Support Worker who assists the family with financial, job-seeking, and other issues.
Entering the budget process, the School Board was pegged to fund about $290,000 of Bright Stars. However, in the face of a nearly $4 million deficit, the school division cut its monetary contribution to the program, and asked County Government to fully fund the initiative.
Despite the cut, School Board Chair Ned Gallaway said all members of the School Board think Bright Stars is a valuable program and want it to continue. The school division also contributes about $250,000 in-kind to the initiative, in the form of classroom space and transportation, amongst other services.
“This year the conversation was purely around the fact that we have a $4 million gap,” Gallaway said. “The line of thought was this is not something that is falling within a core K-12 service, and although we see it as vital and critically important to core K-12 services, the funding responsibility for it fell outside the core K-12 responsibility.”
The School Board is mandated by the state to provide educational services for public school students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Because of choices made in Albemarle, local government and the school division jointly fund the program.
As a result, some local government employees work in the schools. Supervisor Jane Dittmar asked if local government was also “in the education business.”
“It brings about these broader questions of who fulfills these responsibilities,” Dittmar said.
“Is this just the very beginning of a larger vision where we have to allocate funds along a continuum, and does that begin to fiscally constrain our K-12 because we are looking at this longer-term?” Dittmar asked. “Or do you want to be in the business of being our education division, and not just our school division?”
Supervisor Liz Palmer said she looks forward to working jointly with the School Board on this and other funding issues this summer.
“This is obviously a very valuable service,” Palmer said. “I really want to sit down and figure out where we place this whole program and then figure out how we fund it properly, rather than just saying ‘You guys do it.’”
The Supervisors voted 6-1 to reduce salary increases for classified staff from two percent to one, which follows suit with the School Board’s move. The County and the School’s make efforts to maintain pay commonality, or paying non-teaching employees equally for similar jobs.
Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd voted against the motion, arguing that local government policies were being dictated by the School Board’s decision to lower its raises.
“We’re actually letting them decide on what we’re going to do procedurally for salary increases and I have a real problem with that,” Boyd said. “I think that’s taking away from what I was elected to do as a member of this board.”
Reducing the raises saved the County about $400,000. The funding for Bright Stars came from that money, as did $32,414 to extend hours at the new Crozet Library.
Since passing its budget in April, the School Board has communicated with the Supervisors about the potential for one-time monies to offset some of the cuts the school division made.
While the Supervisors did not vote on the issue, they did reach consensus that they want more information about what any one-time money from the recent property tax increase would be used for.
“I support using the one-time money, but I would like some sort of clarity and commitment about what those funds would be used for,” Supervisor Brad Sheffield said, suggesting the School Board return with restorations they would make with specific levels of funding. “I’m not trying to micromanage the School Board, I’m just trying to set my expectations.”
Gallaway said any one-time money would be welcome.
“Every cut that we made we felt was important, and anything that we can restore back from something that we cut would be important to us,” Gallaway said.
The School Board will meet on Thursday, May 7, in the County Office Building on McIntire Road.