Charlottesville Interim City Manager Michael C. Rogers is recommending City Council wait on funding the proposed renovation and expansion of Buford Middle School until the city can put a funding plan in place.
“The proposed school reconfiguration has not been integrated into the city’s Capital Improvement Program in a manner that will allow City Council to make a coordinated funding plan,” Rogers said during Monday’s City Council meeting.
During the meeting, Rogers and the city’s senior budget analyst, Krisy Hammill, presented multiple budget scenarios to potentially fund the schools project, known as reconfiguration, and what tax increases would be needed to raise the money.
Rogers is recommending the city hike the real estate tax rate by two cents set the funds aside in the city’s capital projects fund as the beginning of an annual program to pay for school reconfiguration.
“[I recommend we] postpone any drawdowns of upcoming reconfiguration costs until a later date to give city council and staff and the city’s financial advisor an opportunity to work on a five- to 10-year funding plan,” Rogers said. “I also recommend that the City Manager’s Office begin to retool the city’s Capital Improvement Program to make adequate plans for necessary projects for both schools and city government.”
Rogers said he wants the reworking of the capital improvement plan to begin immediately and take effect for Fiscal Year 2024.
City Council advertised a potential increase in the real estate tax rate of up to 10 cents in order to help fund the project. But councilors have been less than enthusiastic about raising taxes in the face of rising real estate assessments.
"Let’s move forward, but not too fast. Let’s take a pause and start putting away some money for this project,” Rogers said.
During public comment, Charlottesville School Board chair Lisa Larson-Torres voiced her frustration with the recommendation, and also her concern that funds raised by the recommended tax increase would not go to the schools.
“Historically, we’ve been moving not too fast for decades. The schools have waited. This has come up multiple times,” Larson-Torres said. “If there’s a two-cent tax increase, you’re saying we guarantee or designate that or save it for schools? You know, is that truly going to happen?”
Earlier in the meeting, Caja Edwards, a seventh grader at Buford, spoke in favor of renovating Buford.
“A lot of students are really cramped in the class. When students are cramped it makes them feel as if they cannot focus" she said. "It makes kids not be able to learn."
Edwards said the classrooms themselves can be distracting to students.
"Some classrooms don’t have good AC and heat, which can make it kind of difficult to focus because you’re either too hot or too cold to pay attention," she said. "When the AC is running, you can hear it. You can hear the pipes rattling in different classrooms and that’s not good. You want kids to be able to focus on class."
Edwards also said she is concerned about safety and security on the campus when moving between buildings, as well as problems with the bathrooms.
After Rogers made his recommendation, schools superintendent Royal Gurley tweeted about his frustration.
“Black and brown students have waited long enough! They don’t have the privilege to wait!” he tweeted.
Mayor Lloyd Snook said City Council will not take action on the recommendation yet. The next budget work session is March 31, and the recommendation will likely be discussed then.