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Albemarle schools freeze hiring and limit purchasing

Facing at least $2.64 million in budget cuts for this school year, Albemarle County Public Schools is freezing hiring except for essential positions, and limiting purchases to critical and immediate operational needs.

The division was in the middle of hiring teachers for next school year, but that effort is paused for now as officials await more information about state and federal funding. The School Board also will discuss the budget at its April 16 meeting.

“While it is impossible to predict how much longer the economic restrictions from COVID-19 will be in place, we are moving now to prepare for what could be a shortfall of some magnitude,” wrote Rosalyn Schmitt, the division’s chief operating officer, in a community message last week. “Our goal will be to do everything possible to protect classroom learning.”

The Albemarle school division is currently operating on a $195.4 million budget, and officials have said the school system was in a good place financially before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teachers don’t sign an official employment contract until after July 1, when the next fiscal year starts and new money is allocated. Candidates are given letters of intent, which allows divisions to make an offer early in the year.

Division spokesman Phil Giaramita said the schools could make an exception to the hiring freeze “in a very select situation.”

For the 2019-20 school year, the division hired 190 teachers, according to an annual report. During the initial weeks of the closure, school officials had been virtually interviewing teacher candidates.

Albemarle County Executive Jeff Richardson said last week that the general government would reduce spending by $3.02 million and capital projects will have to be reduced by about $580,000 over the next three months.

For the next fiscal year, the school division will have to cut its budget by about $3.38 million, the general government will have to cut about $2.5 million and about $850,000 will have to be cut from capital projects.

The School Board has already approved a $209.3 million funding request and is scheduled to formally adopt a budget in mid-May, after the Board of Supervisors extended the budget process.

“Some future developments could mitigate the revenue shortfall,” Schmitt wrote. “Both the federal and state governments could take budgetary actions to limit economic damage to local schools. Whether that occurs and the extent of any relief remains to be seen. We also are realizing some expenditure reductions as the result of schools being closed.”

Local funding accounts for about 70% of the school system’s budget, though officials were anticipating more money from the state, compared with more recent years.

Gov. Ralph Northam said earlier this week that he’s planning to suspend all new spending for the state’s two-year budget, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Northam will propose budget amendments by Saturday evening.

Schmitt also wrote that division staff members are reviewing all expenses for the current year to find areas where reductions can be made without having a serious impact and to develop contingency plans.

“At this point, no decisions or reductions have been made and our future decisions will be based upon more clarity around final revenue numbers from the federal, state and county governments,” she wrote.


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