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Albemarle School Board outlines priorities amid budget cutting

The Albemarle County school division wants to broadly prioritize student learning, equity and current employees as it looks to cut millions from its budgets for the current and coming fiscal years.

Preliminary revenue estimates project a $15 million deficit compared with the School Board’s adopted funding request of $209 million, said Maya Kumazawa, the division’s director of planning and budget. Using the current budget of $195.4 million, the School Board would need to cut $1.8 million.

“So that means we have to find ways to distribute that $1.8 million loss of resources for next year when we’re, at the same time, facing an enrollment growth of 500 students,” Kumazawa said.

The School Board briefly discussed the looming budget cuts during a virtual meeting Thursday. The division is planning to release a community budget survey Friday and hold another public hearing May 7. The new spending plan will be adopted May 14, the same day the Board of Supervisors is set to vote on the full county budget.

State and local revenues have taken a hard hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. County staff members are expecting at least a $5.7 million shortfall for next fiscal year. An updated budget summary for the local government will be posted April 22.

The school division’s revised budget will be presented May 7.

Thursday’s presentation focused on the division’s guiding priorities as division staff work through different scenarios for the revised budget.

“Next week’s work session will be in-depth on the figures,” said Rosalyn Schmitt, the division’s chief operating officer.

The work session will be held at 6:30 p.m. April 23 via Zoom, a video conferencing application.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” School Board Chairman Jonno Alcaro said. “Next week is going to be a busy session.”

School staff members are building a revised budget from the ground up, Kumazawa said. As they build that new plan, staff members are prioritizing student learning, equity, current employees, contingencies and stakeholder engagement.

For the rest of this fiscal year, Schmitt said the division’s goal is to maintain as much of its fund balance as possible.

All current vacancies are frozen for now, and division staff members are evaluating all discretionary spending.

Clare Keiser, assistant superintendent for organizational development and human resource leadership, said a handful of external offers were made before the hiring freeze. Teachers, however, do not sign contracts until July 1.

“We’re hopeful that as we come closer to consensus on what we’re looking at, and the impacts on staffing, that we’ll be able to lift those freezes situation by situation as we move forward, but for right now, everything is on hold,” Keiser said.

The fiscal year 2021 budget request, adopted by the School Board in February, was the first in more than a decade to be balanced. Much of the $13 million in new spending was aimed at boosting compensation, including raising the minimum wage and hiring additional staff to keep up with student enrollment growth.

“I just want to say I think we jinxed ourselves by having a balanced budget,” joked David Oberg, a School Board member.


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