Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. has proposed an Operating Budget that aims to focus on social, emotional and academic learning as well as increase graduation rates, reduce chronic absenteeism, and expand educational opportunities and experiences for students in preschool through graduation.
The Operating Budget of $299.1 million for the 2020-21 school year is an increase of 4.4% on last year’s budget, in line with ACPS’ anticipated continued enrollment growth.
The superintendent is proposing to allocate funds directed at improving the graduation rate — particularly among Hispanic males — and 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% which must be continued to be addressed. A project team is already exploring options around developing new high school programming specifically geared towards relevant workforce needs that will encourage students to graduate from high school within four years.
The budget 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 support for the early learning program Smart Beginnings, to continue to be implemented in collaboration with the non-profit ACT for Alexandria and the City of Alexandria.
Seven positions have been added to support students with disabilities, as recommended in last year’s audit of Specialized Instruction. Three English Learner teaching positions have been added to keep pace with the growing non-English speaking student population at ACPS. Additional funding has been allocated to have 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 recent Community Engagement Evaluation.
“This budget is aligned with the priorities set by the School Board for the 2020-21 school year. It continues to direct funding to the classroom and provides the support our students need to succeed,” said Dr. Hutchings.
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.
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 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. ACPS will pay for the cost of benefit program increases to the Virginia Retirement System and ACPS’ Supplemental Retirement Fund to ensure these funds remain economically viable.
The proposed Combined Funds Budget for 2020-21, which includes school nutrition funds as well as grants, special projects and the Operating Budget, totals $324.7 million.
The School Board will conduct two work sessions on the Combined Funds Budget – that includes the Operating Budget – in January. There will be a Public Hearing on the proposed budget on January 23. The Board is expected to adopt the budget on February 20, after which it will go to City Council for their review and approval.