Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent Matthew Haas is asking for $257.3 million for the division for the 2023-2024 school year, about a 4% increase from the 2022-2023 adopted budget of $246.5 million.
“I think when our community looks at our funding requests this year, they’re not going to see surprises,” Haas told The Daily Progress before the school board’s budget work session.
The $257.3 million in the draft budget covers the operating and maintenance costs for county schools. It’ll go toward paying staff, keeping the lights on and transporting students to school. It also includes controversial line items such as adding a school resource officer more than two years after the board unanimously voted to remove them.
The proposed budget would also pay for a 5% pay increase for all staff. Inflation was 6.5% in 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The commonwealth is considering an overall 7% pay increase for teachers.
The 5% pay bump includes school transportation staff, whose starting hourly pay went up to $21.50 in December. Bus drivers previously made $16.50 an hour.
The proposed 5% pay increase disappointed the Albemarle Education Association union.
“While we’re definitely grateful for a 5% raise, any raise that’s below the rate of inflation will make our staff feel like we are making less money next year,” Mary McIntyre, vice president of the group, told The Daily Progress during the budget presentation on Thursday.
A first-year Albemarle County teacher without a master’s degree makes $52,566 annually. The pay bump Haas is asking for would bring that teacher’s salary to a little more than $55,000. The raises, plus adjustments to how the division pays employees for their years of experience, will cost $9.45 million.
“I’m really working hard to try to recruit and retain and develop outstanding employees to add to the already amazing cadre of 2,700 employees that we have now in the school system,” Haas said.
The draft budget reserves $126,000 for a school resource officer’s salary and benefits. The officer would work at the 11 schools in the division’s northern feeder pattern. Haas previously told The Daily Progress he was going to propose adding an officer dedicated to Albemarle High School in January after allegations of student misconduct at at the high school, which is in the northern feeder pattern, emerged.
Parents have told The Daily Progress that at least one incident of sexual assault occurred at Albemarle High School in October and involved the school’s junior varsity football team. While the school division has acknowledged an “incident” occurred, it has never identified it as sexual assault.
The Albemarle County Police Department told The Daily Progress that multiple minors were charged with crimes in connection to the incident but declined to say how many received charges or what the charges were. The minors were referred to juvenile intake and the case was closed in November, authorities said.
County schools will keep school safety coaches, which were introduced after the school board voted to remove school resource officers during the summer of 2020.
“I see that as the base level of support, and then enhancing that with a school resource officer to add an extra layer of safety across the school community,” Haas said.
Currently, the county doesn’t have money allotted to cover the cost of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with the Albemarle teachers union. The Albemarle Education Association made its second bid to win those rights at a school board meeting on Feb. 9.
The group made its first attempt to get bargaining rights in March 2022. The school board’s attorney estimated that the negotiation would cost between $377,000 and $433,000 at the May 2022 meeting, where the school board voted the resolution down.
“We should be able to build it in if we need to,” Haas said.
There’s also roughly $1.4 million for substitute teachers in the draft budget, most of which will go toward hiring 10 full-time substitutes. Last year, Albemarle County schools hired a full-time substitute for each of its 24 schools. The 10 new full-time substitutes would go to the schools that have the most difficulty hiring substitute teachers.
Teachers and parents have complained online and in public meetings about staffing shortages and the scarcity of substitutes. Short-term substitute teachers in the county make $140 daily, but long-term substitutes earn $228 a day.
“This had a significant impact in improving those registering to serve as substitute teachers, but overall, we have not yet recovered the ground we lost during the pandemic,” county schools spokesman Phil Giaramita told The Daily Progress.
Thursday budget presentation was the first of several in the budget process. On Feb. 23, there will be a second budget meeting. Members of the public can weigh in on the budget during a public hearing March 2. On March 9, the school board will vote on the budget that they present to the Board of Supervisors.
On March 13, the school board and the Board of Supervisors will meet to work on the draft budget. Then, supervisors can ask for alterations to the budget.
“There will be changes to the budget,” the school division’s budget director, Maya Kumazawa, told The Daily Progress before Thursday’s presentation.
On April 27, the school board is set to adopt the budget. Then it’ll go to the commonwealth for approval. Typically, governors approve school budgets in April. Last year, Gov. Glenn Youngkin didn’t sign the budget until June 21, 10 days before the start of the next fiscal year.
“There’s really a large amount of time, about two and a half, three months of ongoing work that we’ll need to do,” Haas said.
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