The Alexandria City School Board has approved an Operating Budget for the 2020-21 school year focused on supporting students socially, emotionally and academically while also increasing graduation rates.
The Operating Budget of $299.1 million is an increase of 4.4% on last year’s budget, in line with ACPS’ anticipated continued enrollment growth and needs. It directs funding to reducing chronic absenteeism and also expanding educational opportunities and experiences for students in preschool through to graduation.
As part of his annual budget proposal to City Council on February 18, City Manager Mark Jinks recommended funding 100% of ACPS’ Operating Budget request for FY 2021 without the need for a tax increase. If approved by the City Council, this will be the third year in a row that the City will have funded 100% of ACPS’ Operating Budget request, and would mean that nearly 40% of all FY 2021 General Fund net new revenue growth in the City’s budget would be devoted to ACPS.
The City Manager also proposed that the City Council should fund 100% of ACPS’ Capital Improvement Program (CIP) Budget for FY 2021-2030, which includes $227 million for the modernization of Douglas MacArthur Elementary School and modernization of the T.C. Williams Minnie Howard campus as part of The High School Project in the next two years. This would require City Council’s support for a two-cent increase in the real estate tax rate to be applied exclusively to Schools and City capital needs. The total ACPS CIP request for the next ten year period (FY 2021-2030) is $530.7 million.
ACPS’ Operating Budget for FY 2021 allocates funds aimed at improving the graduation rate, particularly among Hispanic males, as well as preventing students from dropping out of high school early. Although the dropout rate at T.C. Williams High School has almost halved over the past three years, it still hovers around 7.7%. A project team has been and is continuing to explore options around developing new high school programming specifically geared towards relevant workforce needs that will help encourage students to graduate within four years.
ACPS’ Operating Budget also provides increased support for literacy in kindergarten through second grade, expands funding for experiential learning opportunities in humanities for second grade students with Historic Alexandria, and allocates funding for additional staffing for the Young Scholars Program at all elementary schools. The budget also provides for continued implementation of the early learning program Smart Beginnings, in collaboration with the non-profit ACT for Alexandria and the City of Alexandria.
The Approved Budget seeks to add seven positions to support students with disabilities, in line with Specialized Instruction audit recommendations, and three English Learner teaching positions to keep pace with the growing non-English speaking student population at ACPS. It also provides for a full-time bilingual Amharic specialist and a full-time Amharic translator to help increase outreach to the Amharic-speaking community, identified as an underserved community in the Community Engagement Evaluation.
The Operating Budget also proposes changes that aim to provide a competitive salary and benefits program to enable ACPS to continue to recruit and retain high quality staff. This includes a salary step increase for eligible staff, a one-time payment of 2% of base salary for those who are not eligible for a step increase, and market rate adjustments for select staff — including bus drivers, bus monitors, bus mechanics, paraprofessionals IV and elementary and middle school principals and department chiefs — to make those salaries competitive in the region. These increases will help offset increases in the cost of health care premiums in 2020-21. The budget also accounts for the cost of benefit program increases to the Virginia Retirement System as well as makes a contribution to employees’ ACPS’ Supplemental Retirement Fund to ensure these funds remain economically viable.
It is outstanding to have this kind of mutual support for our students across our city for the third year in a row, and is excellent news for our young people,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr.
The Approved Combined Funds Budget for FY 2021, which includes the School Nutrition Fund, Grants, the Special Projects Fund, and the Operating Fund, totals $324.7 million.
Last fall, ACPS refined the way the budget process works to ensure all priorities from the School Board through to the teacher in the classroom are aligned. The aim is to make ACPS more efficient in reaching these goals and increase our ability to measure outcomes. It also adjusted its Capital Improvement Program Budget process to better align with the City of Alexandria’s budget process.