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Unbalanced Albemarle schools budget OK’d for supervisors’ consideration

Albemarle County Public Schools expects its spending to grow by $7 million next year, leaving a $1.5 million funding gap. The budget request is a increase over the current budget.

The county School Board on Tuesday voted 6-0, with Jason Buyaki abstaining, to approve the $174,163,445 million funding request. The request now will go before the county Board of Supervisors.

The School Board voted, 7-0, to add $40,000 for non-Virginia High School League-sanctioned extracurricular activities before sending the request forward.

Board member Pam Moynihan said she hoped the measure would increase parity between VHSL events, which are generally athletic in nature, and non-VHSL events.

“I was looking for those kinds of activities … that have pretty broad participation that are not VHSL activities,” she said. “I am just looking for some sort of equity in terms of funding.”

Board member David Oberg said he supported the motion just to get the budget proposal before the Board of Supervisors.

“I recognize that we might have to cut it, but I would like for it to be in our funding request for now,” he said. “This is something I highly value and I want it in the [request].”

Buyaki moved to remove $20,000 in funding for principals for use as discretionary funds for food during events such as staff training.

“It is really disturbing to me that we have an increase in food and snacks, specifically $6,000 in bottled water,” he said. “This budget, to me, does not show real fiscal restraint in preparing us for a potential shortfall.”

Board member Steve Koleszar warned the board against getting caught up in details before state and local revenues are clear.

“From a philosophical viewpoint, I have always felt that it is not the board’s job to get into the weeds of the line items,” he said. “It is our job to look at the bigger picture.”

The funding gap is less than half last year’s $3.8 million gap, and more than $5 million lower than the 2014 spending gap.

More than 70 percent of the increase will go toward teacher and staff salaries. The county schools plan to spend more than $2.3 million on raising teacher and staff salaries by an average of 2 percent.

Another $ million will pay for increased health and dental insurance costs. The division’s contribution to the Virginia Retirement System is expected to grow by $413,000.

Despite the increase in spending over last year, inflation-adjusted state per-pupil dollars are lower than they were in 2008, school officials said.

Since the 2008-09 school year, the state contribution to the school system has dropped percent, while local funding has increased percent, documents showed.

As the burden to fund local schools has shifted, the number of students in the division who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch has jumped more than 46 percent. Overall enrollment in the county schools has grown by 940 students since 2008-09.

To keep pace with enrollment growth, the division has had to steadily add school-based staff. The county schools currently employ school-based staffers — defined as all personnel who work directly at a school — per 100 students, compared with in 2008-09, the budget request showed.