The Funding Challenge: Sustaining Our Portfolio of Educational Excellence

Funding from the Commonwealth for K-12 education has dropped over the past seven years. This drop has shifted the burden of responsibility for education in Albemarle and other localities to local taxpayers’ property taxes. If per pupil revenues from the state had remained flat over this time period, Albemarle County Public Schools would have no funding gap in the 2015-16 funding request because we would receive $3.8 million in additional state revenues for FY16. This is not the case. The current revenue gap for the school division is $2.7 million. This creates a challenge for the Board to sustain commitments to quality programming, growth needs, and excellent staff to serve the 13,500 students enrolled in our schools.

Past Board investments in a Portfolio of Educational Excellence have allowed us to sustain commitments to programs, staff, and students so that we didn’t fall behind either market-competitive compensation or program services to students. Today, Pk-12 programs serve young people well because of past investments to recruit and retain a top-notch workforce.

However, the current FY16 funding request challenges our capability to both keep up with market-driven staff compensation while continuing to sustain and enhance the educational services that our community values and supports. This means that past cuts and reductions in funding allocations impact to such an extent that we are faced with the need to catch up in these areas :

  • salary compensation and benefits coverage,

  • purchase of learning resources,

  • facilities and classroom modernization in areas such as science labs,

  • professional development and training to develop and extend content and teaching expertise.

It’s important to realize that we cannot keep up current services when revenues do not move apace with the costs of inflation, compensation and benefit expenses, growth, and directed/mandated services.

Sustaining the Board’s market-compensation commitment to staff is the top priority expressed by every demographic group surveyed earlier in the school year. Due to revenue gaps, staff likely will not receive Human Resources’ recommended market-competitive salary increase – unless more funding becomes available. Instead, a phased-in raise during the 2015-16 School Year is the likely action.

Take home pay is less today than it was five years ago for teachers and other staff including those working in local government. Like others experiencing wage stagnation, our educators are finding it difficult to make ends meet as health insurance costs rise, Virginia Retirement System changes have taken a big bite out of paychecks, and cost of living adjustments remain nonexistent. This isn’t just a problem here. It’s occurring all over the United States. The recession has impacted education. Today, fewer college students are choosing to major in education, practitioners are switching to more lucrative careers, and the boomers are exiting the profession to retirement. While this might not impact today or tomorrow, this trend has deep implications for the future of a strong educational workforce here in our community.

Why should we ALL care about sustaining commitment to excellent schools, to supporting breadth of programs that serve young people, and hiring the best educators we can find?

Our Portfolio of Educational Excellence represents the core values of a premier community with one of the overall highest educational levels in the United States. The capability of higher education and the business community to attract top employees and develop the local economy is dependent upon excellent public schools. The quality of our schools impacts Albemarle real estate values. However, the most important reason why we need to sustain our programs, services, class sizes, and competitive market walks through our school doors every day.

Our children.

What have past Boards and our community considered as valuable investments in our Portfolio of Educational Excellence over the last two decades?

  • We have implemented a competitive market strategy to recruit and retain excellent Albemarle teachers by paying at the bottom of the top quartile of a competitive market which includes contiguous counties and selected counties in northern, Tidewater, Richmond area, and southwest Virginia.
  • Our schools have some of the smallest average class sizes in Virginia – ranking us in the top tier of small class sizes among the elite northern Virginia divisions and the Charlottesville City Schools that represent the highest per pupil expenses in the state. For comparison, Albemarle County Schools rank 1st in elementary, fourth in middle school, and third in high school class sizes despite per pupil expenses that are the third lowest in this cohort performance benchmark group.

IMG_0682Students take advantage of a comprehensive K-12 arts program that is recognized at the local, state and national level as one of the best, including the addition of a new secondary summer fine arts academy in 2014. While many divisions have reduced arts commitments, Albemarle’s School Board has sustained visual and performing programs.

 

  • The K-12 physical education program taught by licensed PE staff represents both the time and activities necessary for young people to build lifelong wellness and fitness knowledge and skills.

IMG_41006-12 AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) services supports over 300 students who will be first generation college students, providing courses to build skills, knowledge and strategies essential to performing at high levels in college preparatory classes with mentoring support typical among college-educated families.

wahsDifferentiated high school academy options allow young people to pursue specific interests such as health and medical sciences, engineering, and environmental studies during the regular year and visual/fine arts, computer programming, and leadership during the summer.

  • Comprehensive college curricula includes a broad offering of advanced placement and dual enrollment courses open to students who wish to pursue college credits in high school.

DI robotsNumerous gifted and talented and general enrichment options include robotics, Destination Imagination, National History Day, Westinghouse Science Fair, UVA Writers’ Eye, Governors’ Schools, VHSL competitive activities from drama to athletics, and so much more.

 

  • Nationally recognized K-12 library programs and facilities offer contemporary access to research, communication resources, and activities that allow libraries to be open and accessible to students and staff to search, connect, communicate and make learning.

IMG_9532A  6-12 contemporary Career and Technical Education lab program addresses both the interests and needs of students who will enter future workforces – with focus on developing transportable life skills that are important in school, at home, and at work. A lab school partnership with UVa, the Smithsonian, and Charlottesville City Schools offers middle school students an interdisciplinary STEM curricula.

  • The division’s nationally recognized instructional coaching model provides pedagogical and content development support directly to teachers with particular focus on mentoring and assisting novice teachers. This program is part of a package of strategies to help recruit, develop and retain excellent teachers, a return on investment.

  • The Board’s commitment sustains a value for community schools so children are educated as close to where they live as possible.
  • The Division values its partnership with local government as we together capture efficiencies through shared services and activities in Human Resources, Finance, Transportation, Technology, Pre-Kindergarten, the Comprehensive Services Act for special education, and Legal Services to the Board.

CATEC buildersSustained community partnerships offer extended learning opportunities for students through Piedmont Virginia Community College, the University of Virginia, the Charlottesville- Albemarle Tech Ed Center (Charlottesville Schools), private sector businesses and corporations, and community agencies.

 

  • A pilot elementary world languages program at Cale Elementary adds depth to the opportunities for young children to learn a second language when their brains are most receptive to developing language competencies.
  • Pk-12 intervention and prevention services address economically disadvantaged children who may enter school with learning gaps, English as Second Language Learners, handicapped learners, potential dropouts, and students with mental health and emotional needs.

Monticello High Music Industry Class Writes Lyrics and Records Music

Top performance by Albemarle students in arts, academics, and athletics has led to a graduates who excel by any measure. The total drop out rate for students in the class of 2014 of 2.3% represents a total of just twenty-three students who dropped out of school between ninth and twelfth grade. Our recent graduates were accepted at close to 300 different colleges and universities including 20 of the 25 top private and 21 of the top 25 public colleges and universities in the nation.

Excellence is a hallmark of our community’s public schools, representing the investments of generations who have lived here in Albemarle County. Public education is a heritage for our community going back to its roots in the earliest decades of United States history. Mr. Jefferson saw the need for public education and he influenced the state and nation to embrace public schooling. Why? He knew that public education was essential to a strong and thriving citizenry.

Here in a county that set in motion the birth of the United States of America, it seems only appropriate that today we should be a model for educating all of our young people well – boys, girls, children of color, the handicapped, the immigrants.

Monticello Jan. 14. 18.

“A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens, from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest, of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.”  Thomas Jefferson to Joseph C, Cabell