At their February 7th work session, our School Board adopted a funding request for the 2017-18 school year. The interim county executive, Doug Walker, presented his recommended budget, including the School Board’s funding request, on February 17. Based upon Mr. Walker’s presentation, no property tax increases would be necessary for 2017-18.
The Supervisors will conduct two public hearings; one that will take place on February 21 on Mr. Walker’s recommended budget and an April 11 public hearing on the tax rate and budget. The Supervisors are scheduled to formally adopt both on April 18. Following these actions, our School Board will formally adopt next year’s budget for our school division.
The operating budget approved by our School Board is slightly over $181 million, a 4.9 percent increase from this year. Revenues are projected to increase by 4.3 percent to $180.2 million. The funding gap of $530,811 is a welcome contrast to recent years when multi-million dollar gaps were common.
We are awaiting final revenue numbers from the state and it is conceivable this updated number could further reduce the funding gap.
Notable in our funding request is the stronger emphasis on meeting perhaps the biggest challenge our division faces in reaching our only strategic goal for all students. Over the past ten years, the growth in the enrollment of at-risk students has far outpaced our overall rate. While the latter has increased by just over eight percent, the growth of students from economically disadvantaged homes has increased by 67 percent and students who are English language learners are up by 37 percent. Over the past two years, special education student enrollment is 17 percent higher.
The challenge comes when you look at performance data for these demographic groups. Standards of Learning test scores are well below division averages as is student engagement and attendance data. Clearly our at-risk students bring barriers to learning with them when they enter school and unaddressed, these disadvantages will impact our ability to prepare all graduates for lifelong success as learners, workers and citizens.
Our solution is an Equity & Access initiative that will provide targeted resources to support the ability of principals and teachers to meet the social, emotional and academic needs of all children and strengthen parental involvement with their child’s education. A companion professional development program will enhance the ability of our teachers to equalize learning opportunities for all students and include a credentialing component and stipend.
This initiative would begin as a three-year pilot program at our four urban ring elementary schools and eventually be expanded to all three feeder patterns.
Consistent with prior years, more than 80 percent of our expenditures next year will support personnel. New spending will include a two percent compensation increase and higher contributions by the school division into your retirement fund and for your health care premiums.
Also in the funding request is $500,000 set aside to redress salary compression, which has been proposed in previous years but not included because of the need to make substantial cuts in balancing those budgets.
On the revenue side, the state continues to fall short of the support they regularly provided to K-12 public education in the years prior to the recession. If this year, for instance, the state had maintained those levels of support, we would be receiving almost another $6 million. The better news is that Albemarle County’s economy has strengthened and local government will be contributing nearly six percent more revenue next year to our school division.
I hope you will have time to visit the 2017-18 Budget Development web page, where you can find all of the details regarding next year’s funding request.
In her letter to the Board of Supervisors, which accompanied the School Board funding request, our Board Chair, Dr. Kate Acuff, wrote of last year’s bond referendum, “The overwhelming vote for the referendum, which was approved in every precinct and approved by 75 percent of all voters, was a strong expression of confidence in the contributions that a high quality educational system offers to our county.”
This system exists only because of the extraordinary innovation, energy and passion you have for the success of our students and their families.