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Charlottesville schools' funding request larger than city expected

The Charlottesville school divisions’ funding request calls for $2 million more than city officials were expecting to provide for the next fiscal year.

“We really have to talk about that,” City Manager Tarron Richardson said Tuesday during a joint meeting between the School Board and the City Council.

The division’s preliminary funding request includes $4.95 million of new expenses, most of which will go toward staff raises and rising non-discretionary costs. To pay for that, the division is expecting to ask the council for an additional $4.5 million.

Richardson said the city typically gives the schools 40% of new real estate tax revenue, which would amount to $2.1 million. That leaves a $2.4 million gap.

“That’s a big number for us,” Richardson said, especially as city budget officials are working to close their own gaps.

At a recent budget work session, the city’s budget for fiscal year 2021 was projected at $191.7 million, a 1.5% increase from the current year.

In recent years, the city has provided the school system with additional funding beyond the 40% of new tax revenues.

“And we’ve been grateful for that,” School Board Chairwoman Jennifer McKeever said.

Richardson added that he wants to help as much as he can.

“But that additional 2-plus million will really impact us in trying to close our gap,” he said.

Last year, the City Council allocated $57 million to the school division — $3.3 million more than the previous fiscal year. The city currently has an operating budget of $188.8 million. The school system is operating on an $88 million budget.

Numbers in the budget documents can change over the course of the next few months. Schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins will formally present her funding request Feb. 6 and the City Council will adopt its 2020-21 budget in April.

The funding request allocates $1.7 million toward giving all division staff members an average 3% raise. That amount is a slight decrease from the numbers presented at a School Board work session Saturday as division officials made additional adjustments for vacant positions.

For next year, the division is expecting a net decrease of six full-time positions and one part-time teaching position.

Mayor Nikuyah Walker said she didn’t have too many comments on the schools’ funding request as the council hasn’t received the full presentation of the city’s budget. The council’s next budget work session is set for Feb 6.

During Tuesday’s meeting, councilors and School Board members went into detail on a number of budget proposals, as well as changes in projected state funding. A change in the Local Composite Index — the formula that determines how state education dollars are doled out — means less additional money for the division this coming year as compared with the current year.

In addition to the raises, several large budget lines are driving the additional expenses, such as a 15% increase in health insurance costs that equate to $1.1 million. Non-discretionary cost increases total $2.5 million.

About $1.06 million is budgeted for 17 items that include hiring more staff to support literacy instruction and English Language Learners; boosting staffing and supplies in certain electives as student enrollment grows; and increasing substitute teacher pay.

Other items in the funding request continue to change. Budget line-items include $34,320 for a hall monitor at Buford Middle School and $25,000 in total honorarium pay for teachers called on to cover classes when a substitute isn’t available. As of December, only about 70% of teacher absences in Charlottesville are covered by a substitute.

New budget items focused on improving school programs now total $1.06 million.

“We start with a zero-based budget and go line by line,” Atkins said. “We scrub the budget quite a bit and look for opportunities to make cuts.”

School Board member Juandiego Wade said about half of the additional expenses go toward maintaining the division as is.

“The additional $2 million for new programs really allows our system to grow and to thrive,” Wade said.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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