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Charlottesville School Board wants community to rally behind $92.1M spending plan

As the Charlottesville School Board prepares to take its funding request to the City Council, it wants the community to support the $92.1 million spending plan.

“This is what the community has asked of us,” board member Sherry Kraft said of how the budget responds to the community’s concerns about equity and opportunity gaps in the schools. “I feel like we really have stepped up to make these things happen. That’s what this budget reflects.”

On Thursday, the board approved the request, which seeks $61.7 million from the City Council — an additional $3.87 million compared with the current budget. Much of the new expenses in the request will go toward salary raises and non-discretionary cost increases such as an extra $1.1 million for health insurance.

City staff members previously have said they are planning to provide an additional $2.1 million to the school system as part of an unofficial agreement that the schools receive 40% of new real estate tax revenue. In past years, the city has given the school system additional funds beyond that 40% chunk.

School division staff members have cut the funding request by $646,435 since it was proposed to the School Board earlier this month.

Other budget items go toward hiring more staff to support English Language Learners and boosting staffing and supplies in certain electives as student enrollment grows. All division staff would see a 3% raise, and the daily rate for substitutes would increase from $91 to $105, under the request.

Board members unanimously voted to adopt the request. Board Chairwoman Jennifer McKeever did not attend Thursday’s meeting.

The total budget is 4% larger than the current budget of $88.5 million. School division budgets have two parts — general fund and special revenue funds. Overall, the funding request has $3.6 million of new expenses. That number is lower than the request to the city because of technical adjustments and special revenue changes. Much of the money from the city goes to the division’s general fund.

Board member Leah Puryear said if equity and diversity are important to the community, then the community should support the funding request.

“We have given you the road map; we have given you the outline,” she said. “We are asking you to go forth and support us.”

The School Board will present its budget to the City Council on March 2, and councilors are expected to adopt a budget April 14.

“This budget is very challenging but I’m happy with it,” said board member Juandiego Wade. “I think it is the best thing we can do under the circumstances.”

Schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins said this has been a difficult budget to craft because of the limited revenue generated at the city level.

“As we have gone through this budget, we’ve used the lens of equity to make sure that we are very intentional, but very purposeful in each of the recommendations that we are making,” she said.

The division breaks up its expenses into four categories: compensation, non-discretionary contracts, school-based program supports and improvements and operations.

Compensation and non-discretionary contracts comprise 81.3% of the new expenses. New spending under school-based programs and operations — totaling $930,548 — is almost offset entirely by other cost reductions, according to the budget summary. The division historically has not compiled a full budget document until after its adoption.

Those reductions include six teaching and instructional assistant positions at the elementary level, due to changes in elementary enrollment, along with three other full-time positions.

Additionally, the latest budget request doesn’t include funding for an iSTEM teacher, delaying a planned expansion of that program at the elementary level.

“We’ve compromised as much as possible,” board member James Bryant said, adding that he hopes the board and council can come to an agreement.

Board member Lisa Larson-Torres said she is sensitive to the work that Richardson and the City Council have to do on the budget as they grapple with several competing asks for money.

“I hope that the city manager’s budget prioritizes our students and our schools,” she said.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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