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County schools projecting significant increase in student enrollment

Albemarle County schools is expected to hire an additional 30 teachers for the next school year to accommodate an unexpected burst of enrollment growth.

“That is a historically high number,” said said Rosalyn Schmitt, chief operating officer for the school division, on Wednesday.

The division is expecting an extra 200 students for next school year. That’s on top of the unexpected growth in the current school year, when the county enrolled 300 students more than it projected.

“That’s a budget-to-budget increase of 500 students,” Schmitt said. “For us, that’s large.”

Schmitt discussed the division’s five-year financial forecast with the Albemarle County School Board and Board of Supervisors Wednesday during the final joint meeting between the boards before budget proposals for the next fiscal year are unveiled. The elected officials also talked about the county’s five-year capital improvement program and revenue forecasts.

During a discussion of the county’s overall five-year revenue assumptions, Steven Allshouse, the county’s manager of economic analysis and forecasting, said that the economy looks decent for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends in July.

“There might be, capital m, might be, a slow down in FY 21 or FY 22. … That being said, I don’t think that we will see a slow down or downturn anywhere near as severe as the last recession,” he said.

The county schools are expecting an additional $5.7 million in local and state revenue for fiscal year 2021. That would still leave the school system with a funding gap of $4.4 million, which does not factor in any new budget proposals.

Cost increases for the next fiscal year include $1.4 million for the state pension system and $1.6 million to bump minimum wage to $12.75 for the lowest-paid county school employees and adjust the salary scale accordingly.

The school system also is budgeting for 2% raises for teachers and staff. Other cost drivers are student enrollment, the complexity in special education cases and growth in the number of English language learners.

More than 14,000 students are enrolled in Albemarle County schools this year. For the 2020-21 school year, the division is expecting 14,236 students. By the 2024-25 school year, enrollment is projected at 14,984 students.

Schmitt said that predicting the number of kindergartners is harder than for any other student group. This year, 100 more students than projected showed up in that grade.

“That’s historically high,” she said.

To support the additional students, Schmitt said the division is expecting $3.4 million more from the state, for a total support level of $53.9 million. State support accounts for 26.8% of division revenue.

Jack Jouett Supervisor Diantha McKeel said the state needs to step up and provide more funding for local schools. Other Supervisors and School Board members agreed.

“… Every cent that the state pays toward education is money we don’t have to spend locally, and we’re supplanting right now a lot of money that the state has not been stepping up to pay,” McKeel said.

According to School Board members, education funding has not rebounded since the recession and is $600 less per student compared with 2009 funding levels.

“We need to get the state to commit to more education funding,” said Steve Koleszar, the school board member for the Scottsville district.

Schools Superintendent Matt Haas will present his funding request Jan. 23, and the School Board will finalize that request Feb. 4.

The county’s CIP Advisory Committee, which includes Supervisors and School Board members, recommended that a transportation leveraging program, economic development public-private partnerships and expansions at Cale and Crozet elementaries be the top new capital projects for the next five years. Those projects would total an additional $55 million over five years of the Capital Improvement Program.

County budget director Lori Allshouse said those projects could cost an estimated five cent increase on the real estate tax rate, which could be done as one cent per year between 2020 and 2024.

“This isn’t a tax rate increase,” she said. “This is just a planning number of what would be the equivalent tax rate that would be required.”

Supervisor Liz Palmer said she was concerned about the recycling convenience center not being included in the CIP because the committee has been working on it for years. It tied for sixth in the rankings.

“I have to say, I’m extremely disappointed in just throwing out everything under that … all these small things,” she said.

Supervisor Ann H. Mallek said it is possible some reserve funds or economic development funds could be used to “jump start it.”

“The observation I would make is politics is the art of having to make hard choices with limited resources,” Supervisor Rick Randolph said.

On Dec. 4, the Board of Supervisors will hold a work session about the five-year fiscal plan.


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