When presented two capital improvement program requests, the Albemarle County School Board voted against a prioritized plan on the basis that it neglected high school renovations.
“I remain troubled that we are once again eliminating any renovation funding for our schools,” said board member Kate Acuff during the board’s Thursday meeting. “The average age of our core schools is about a half a century. This is the area that we consistently zero out.”
The division’s director of planning and budget Maya Kumazawa and chief operating officer Rosalyn Schmitt presented two versions of the capital improvement program, or CIP, request to the school board. Pending approval, both would then be offered to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.
The first was a request summary that included $36.4 million dollars over five years to update and expand high schools in the county, which the school board approved. The board summarily rejected the second, a “highest priority CIP projects scenario” that left those renovations off.
“We’re bidding against ourselves in this,” at-large representative Jonno Alcaro said.
The CIP is separate from the schools’ operating budget and includes things like buying new buses. Once the school board approves a CIP request, it goes to the Board of Supervisors for approval. The Board of Supervisors provides almost 68% of the school division’s total funding.
The high school renovations are essential to increasing schools’ capacity, according to Albemarle County school officials. The school division is already dealing with overcrowding, an issue that will only get worse as student enrollment grows. Albemarle County high schools currently have 180 more students than their campuses were built to accommodate. By 2033, the division expects that number to more than triple to 592.
“We’ve got close to eight schools that are overcrowded, so they’re using mobile classrooms to accommodate the difference, and we’re still growing,” said county schools spokesperson Phil Giaramita.
Funding high school renovations has been a longstanding issue for the school board.
“We’ve had that request on the table probably for at least the last five, six years. And for it to not be included again is really, really troubling,” said board chair Graham Paige.
During the last fiscal year, the county government approved $9.7 million for school renovations for fiscal year 2023-2027.
“It was approved last year and we’re giving it back. That just doesn’t make sense,” Alcaro said.
School board members questioned the need to present two CIP scenarios to the Board of Supervisors.
“We submit a funding request based on our needs, as best we can determine and then we negotiate at some point. But they are asking us to do both sides of the equation,” board member Acuff said.
“It’s my understanding they want to know what your highest priorities are,” responded chief operating officer Schmitt.
“The answer is all of it,” replied school board member Katrina Callsen.
The Board of Supervisors asked the school board to provide its funding priorities ahead of a Dec. 7 work session, said county spokesperson Emily Kilroy.
“The Board of Supervisors invited the School Board for a joint work session on December 7, for a focused discussion of the 5-year financial plan, and specifically asked the School Board and its staff to present a balanced five-year capital improvement plan, along with a balanced five-year financial plan that considers both operation and capital priorities,” Kilroy said via email.
Alcaro hypothesized that the two requests were a product of a change in procedure. The CIP advisory committee was “eliminated for this year,” something that came as a surprise to those who sit on the CIP oversight committee.
“They’re asking us to unilaterally, without full budget numbers, make cuts. I’m not willing to do that,” Acuff said.
Giaramita said the CIP request process had actually become smoother over the last 10 years, in part because of greater collaboration between the Board of Supervisors and the school board.
As for the new, two-pronged request, Giaramita thinks it’s to help the county government better do its own long-term planning.
“I think it’s a question of, ‘What do you need and what do you think will be affordable?’” Giaramita said.
Giaramita had previously told The Daily Progress that funding for Albemarle County schools to buy Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center would likely be in the CIP request. It was not included.
He attributed that to the ongoing appraisal process. “It would be premature to include something in the budget right now,” he said.
School board members will meet with the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 7 for further discussions. In February, Superintendent Matt Haas will present his funding request to the county, which the county will vote on in the spring.