Interim Superintendent Lois F. Berlin has presented a fiscally responsible Combined Funds Budget that is focused on the classroom and supporting growing enrollment.
Of the $298.2m Combined Funds Budget, ACPS is requesting $224 million from the City. This is only $430,000 above City Council’s guidance to the City Manager on school funding, and recognizes the need for constraint in a year that will see tight budgets all round.
Nearly all of the additional costs in the operating fund portion of the budget are enrollment driven. These include additional teachers to serve ACPS’ student population, which has grown by 49 percent over the past 11 years. They also include updating text books—some of which have not been updated since 2004. The additional costs also include the costs of staff and learning materials needed to open the new West End Elementary School and for adding middle school grades at the new Patrick Henry School. The new West End Elementary School is set to open in fall 2018, while the new Patrick Henry School building will open in early 2019.
This is a responsible budget that is aligned with City expectations and still gets what we need for the classroom. Updating our classroom learning materials, keeping our class sizes small and ensuring we attract and retain exemplary teaching staff have to be our priorities next year,” said Dr. Berlin.
Over the past 11 years, since the recession of 2008, the City per pupil allocation has gone down by 9.2 percent, while the student population has grown by 49 percent. Inflation has increased by 19.1 percent over the same period. Had per pupil expenditure kept pace with inflation, ACPS would have an allocation of $18,000 per student, instead of the $14,053 per pupil allocation proposed for next year.
According to the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE), Alexandria spends a lower percentage of its general fund on education than many other school divisions in the Washington Metropolitan area. Compared to its WABE neighbors within Virginia, Alexandria comes in last including debt service and second to last excluding debt service.
We need to put our request for funding in FY 2019 in perspective. In November the City Manager recommended funding the schools at no greater than the amount approved for FY 2018 plus the overall general fund FY 2019 revenue growth rate of 1.259%, the cost for increased enrollment and the cost of operating the new west end elementary school. When we cost out those categories, the difference between my proposed budget and the City Council’s guidance is just over $400,000. I’d call that pretty close for a $275 million operating budget,” said Dr. Berlin.
The biggest cost increases are attributed to the national upward trend in the cost of health care. Mandated healthcare increases add $4.7m to the budget next school year. Interim Superintendent Dr. Berlin has also included a step increase for staff, needed to stay competitive in the northern Virginia region. The ACPS 2020 Strategic Plan focuses on attracting and retaining exemplary staff so that ACPS students continue to receive the highest levels of education. The recommendation includes a change to the salary scales, which will make our starting salaries higher for those joining us as first year teachers and provides a step for those teachers with the most experience.
All Central Office-based departments, except the Educational Facilities Department, which has two new schools to manage next year, have reduced their budgets by five percent across the board. Transportation overtime has also been reduced by $250,000 next school year. In addition, each school has lost half of a full-time flex position – positions allocated by the principal to areas where they feel their school needs additional support. The schools will still retain three or four flex positions depending on school size and percentage of free and reduced price lunch population. The $176,000 Partners in Education (PIE) grant will be discontinued next year.
There are two public hearings for the budget on January 18 and February 15. The School Board is scheduled to adopt the Combined Funds Budget on February 22, after which it will go to the City Council for review and adoption in May.