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Albemarle schools’ $242 million funding request focuses on employee pay

The Albemarle County school division is planning to spend big on staff raises in the coming fiscal year in it’s requested $242 million budget, which is more than 14% over last year’s.

A little more than half of the additional $30.8 million that the division is receiving will go toward boosting staff compensation, according to the draft funding request presented Thursday. Schools Superintendent Matt Haas said that investment should help the division catch up and move ahead of other localities, which has been a school board goal.

“It helps us to staff to the levels that we really should be staffing with a lot of positions that we put on hold with the beginning of the pandemic when we were really trying to be conservative,” Haas said of the overall funding request.

The compensation increases along with other line items such as a reduction in class sizes. It will raise the division’s per-pupil spending by about $2,700 to $17,735, Haas said. Overall, the balanced funding request is increasing by 14.6%, the largest the division has seen in more than a decade.

Haas said during the presentation that the raises are an investment in employees to reward and retain current staff.

“I believe this market driven increase is absolutely central to encouraging employees to stay the course with ACPS and to attracting employees into our positions as we prepare for the next school year,” he said.

Following the budget presentation, the school board held the first of three scheduled work sessions on the spending plan. The board will hold a public hearing on the request March 3 and then vote on the plan March 10.

“I really want to thank our local government and the county executive’s office for your transparency and your collaborative efforts with us as we work our way through the budget,” Haas said.

The $169 million in local revenues make up about 70% of the request. State revenues are increasing by 11% to $65.9 million.

The proposed budget includes the 4% raise for staff that will go into effect next month as well as a 6% raise for all employees effective July 1. The combined 10.24% salary increase will cost about $16 million.

Those raises will bring the starting salary for a teacher who has a bachelor’s degree to $52,566.

“We’re taking big strides and making big swings to increase compensation, provide great benefits, and our goal is to fill those vacancies we talked about earlier to meet the needs of our employees,” Haas said.

The division is seeing higher vacancy rates in support positions such as bus drivers, cafeteria staff and teaching assistants. The School Board raised the starting wage for most positions to $15 an hour last year, and Haas said the proposed budget will complete that effort.

Another $350,000 will go toward adjusting pay for some groups such as bus drivers and teaching assistants because of the switch to a new payroll structure that began this year. The division also wants to spend $878,796 on targeted pay increases for some hard-to-fill positions based on internal reviews. Those specific changes were not outlined in the budget documents provided before Thursday’s meeting.

The division is currently studying how its employee pay and benefits compare to other employers in the area. The funding request also sets aside $3 million in one-time funds to address recommendations from that study.

A $2.1 million proposal in the request would continue efforts begun this school year to hire more substitute teachers. The division recently raised the daily pay for substitutes to $140 a day, and the budget item would add 46 school-based substitutes and one substitute coordinator.

In the first half of the school year, about half of the requests for substitute teachers were filled, officials said. Before the pandemic, about 80% were filled.

For about $2.5 million, the division can reduce the class size ratios by one student across all levels. That would mean in kindergarten through third grade, teachers would have 19.55 students on average. Fourth and fifth grade teachers would have 21.75 students on average. The state standard is 24 and 25, respective. For middle and high school teachers, the average class size would be 23. The state standard is 25.

“In Albemarle County, our school community values small class sizes,” Haas said at Thursday’s meeting.

The class size changes would offset the anticipated loss of about 30 full-time teaching positions because of a decline in enrollment.

Haas said a goal was to sustain pre-pandemic numbers. The lower class sizes also could be a recruitment tool for teachers.

“The flip side of that is that if I’m in a class with a teacher with a lower teacher-pupil ratio, I’m going to get more attention,” Haas said. “My learning needs are more likely to be met and I’m going to learn as a result of that.”

The funding request also boosts staffing for special education and English as a second language departments.

Haas said in his budget presentation the aging school buildings in the division are the most substantial roadblock to continuous improvement. Last fall, an advisory committee recommended $196.2 million in projects for the next several years with two new elementary schools, a high school center and renovations throughout the division topping the list.

County Executive Jeff Richardson will present his budget next Wednesday, which will include the county’s capital budget.

With the additional revenue, the division also is planning to cover the costs of the technology replacement and furniture replacement programs, which had historically been part of the capital improvement program with local government.

Those two programs total $3 million. The request also includes a $1.5 million transfer to the county’s capital improvement program.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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