The bulk of new expenses in the 2020-21 funding request for Albemarle County schools focuses on compensation for employees and hiring additional staff to keep up with student enrollment growth.
“This has really been a season of backtracking and catching up on a lot of decisions that had been made over the past few years to make sure that we put the staffing in place to make sure it can happen,” schools Superintendent Matt Haas said in describing the funding request.
The $209 million funding request is 7% greater from the current $195.4 million budget. Pay raises for teachers and other staff members make up more than half of that increase. Nearly $5 million is going toward hiring more teachers and staff members to accommodate rising student enrollment. The division is looking at a 500-student increase compared with the current budget.
Haas presented his funding request, titled “A Work in Progress,” to the School Board on Thursday.
In a break from recent funding requests, Haas is not proposing many new programs or budget items. Rather, he’s requesting money for a suspension intervention program, to expand the elementary foreign language program, to rework the afterschool program and to hire a school counselor coordinator.
For the first time in a decade, the funding request is balanced, according to budget documents. Historically, at this stage, the school division has presented a funding request with a gap between projected expenses and revenues.
Haas said the school division and local government have fostered a close working relationship. During the budget season, he said county staff members have been frequently updating school division staffers on local revenue projections, helping the division to craft its funding request.
“It would really be difficult for me to come forward with the very healthy revenue that we have and say that we need more to really provide what I consider comprehensive funding requests to cover the needs that have been identified,” he said.
Board Chairman Jonno Alcaro said during Thursday’s meeting that Haas was the first superintendent in at least 20 years to present a balanced funding request.
The funding request does include $545,000 of unfunded proposals that the board could decide to add in if additional revenue becomes available.
A month ago, school division officials were expecting a $4 million funding gap to keep up with growing student enrollment and to cover other cost increases. Since then, Gov. Ralph Northam released his budget proposal, provisions of which would mean an additional $7.2 million more for the Albemarle school division. The General Assembly still has to vote on its budget legislation.
Haas said in a letter accompanying the funding request that the expected state funding — which increased 14.3% — marks the first time that actual per-pupil revenues for the division increased over pre-Great Recession levels.
Local revenues make up 70.6% of the funding request while state revenues comprise 27.6%.
Following Haas’ presentation, the School Board held a work session to discuss the document. Additional work sessions are scheduled for Tuesday and Jan. 30. Both will start at 6:30 p.m. at the County Office Building-McIntire.
The board will vote on the funding request Feb. 4 and adopt a budget in April.
Teachers could receive up to a 3% raise, under the funding request. Of the $7.5 million aimed at wage increases, $2.2 million would provide a 2.5% increase across the board. The division also is requesting $2.5 million for additional compensation changes that could include an extra 0.5% for teachers.
Compensation and benefits make up 87% of the division’s projected expenses.
Haas also is proposing a 1.5% raise for classified staff members.
Additionally, the division wants to raise its minimum wage to at least $13.50 an hour, an item that would cost $2.1 million. Part of the money for additional compensation changes could raise it even higher, to $15 an hour.
“Raising our minimum pay is a must to help us remain competitive with our local market,” he said.
Haas’ decision follows decisions by the University of Virginia, the city of Charlottesville and others to pay $15 an hour at minimum.
Currently, $10.29 per hour is the lowest hourly rate in the county schools.
Haas said about 500 employees, or 19% of the division’s workforce, make less than $15 an hour. Addressing compression in the salary scale, the minimum wage hike would affect 980 employees.
“Offering our employees a higher wage is the right thing to do,” he said.
Compensation was the focus of the School Board’s budget work session that followed Haas’ presentation.
Last year, the School Board adopted a budget with 20 new proposals. Continued funding for those is built into Haas’ request.
“All 20 are works in progress, and this funding request builds on our investments in each,” Haas said during his presentation.
The budget documents include updates on those proposals, as well.
“We plan to finish what we started with the proposals,” Haas said.
The new proposals total $400,000 and make up 3% of the new spending.
Haas said that when he moved to the central office, there was a counseling coordinator in place.
“We really need someone with a counseling background that can tie together things like school nurses, pull in all the psychologists, counselors, all that,” he said. “… Someone to monitor of the work that’s going on so that we don’t lose it as a focus as it might have been one time in the past.”
The coordinator position would cost $78,085.
Haas proposed that the School Board invest $87,663 in the county’s Extended Day Enrichment Program, which would expand it and shift the program away from being solely a self-funded model.
The plan creates an extra 70 seats in the afterschool program for students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals and would be able to attend for free. Additionally, EDEP would not have to rent space from the division anymore, saving it $87,663.
The combined $175,163 would go toward hiring two more staff members for EDEP.
A 2017 program evaluation of EDEP found that it didn’t meet the needs of the school community and had struggled with staffing.
Since that evaluation, the division has been looking for ways to make the program more accessible to families. It piloted a sliding-scale payment model at some small rural elementary schools.
“t didn’t really change the scenario very much,” Haas said of the pilot. “So, we’re coming back at it with a different approach.”
The budget proposal also calls for using a lottery-based application system for all EDEP sites. The lottery system was piloted at a few schools this school year as a way to give more families a chance to sign up rather than just those who are able to register early in the morning and have access to a computer.