Each winter, the School Board engages with staff, parents and community members in the annual budget development cycle for Albemarle County Public Schools. It’s a time to reflect upon the importance of specific resources and programs as well as the staff who serve our young people both directly and indirectly. The services provided to learners make a difference in the colleges our graduates attend, the careers they choose to pursue, and, even, their potential to graduate at all.
In the first decade of the 21st century, the school division’s budget increased because of multiple factors that are outlined below.
o The price of fuel more than doubled from 2001 to 2008.
o Increased square footage of school facilities due to school additions and opening of Baker-Butler Elementary added maintenance costs
o Additional federal and state legislative requirements added unfunded or partially funded mandates for staffing and programs. The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 significantly increased individual student testing and federal and state reports tied to those requirements.
o Technology improvements to support and advance administrative and learning objectives resulted in expansion of hardware, infrastructure, and professional training.
o Growth in student population required increased school staffing to support additional students as well as increased numbers of students with limited English proficiency.
However, the factor responsible for the single greatest percentage of increase to the division’s budget in the first decade of the 21st century has been increasing compensation and benefits for staff so that our school division could recruit and retain staff within a competitive market. This initiative occurred for both Albemarle’s local government and schools between 2004 and 2007.
Over the past four years, the School Board has also worked with building level staff, department heads, and community stakeholders including parents to determine and implement strategies to contain costs. In 2007, an intensive audit of resource deployment and efficiency by Dr. William Bosher of the Commonwealth Education Policy Institute and an external review team was conducted resulting in over 100 recommendations that have been subsequently implemented to reduce operational costs, particularly in support services departments and the Office of Instruction.
This Resource Utilization Study has served as a road map for resource use as the school division and local government have faced significant downward trending of revenues over the past three years. Almost double digit cuts, close to $10M in expenses has occurred to match revenue reductions to our school division’s operational budget. Our School Board and staff also have significant concerns about the impact of the economical downturn on funds for capital improvements. Some of the key areas of reductions and eliminations over three years that resulted in operational cost savings follow.
o Purchase of a GPS system and time-clock technologies resulted in efficiencies netting reductions in the transportation department budget of well over $1 M.
o Energy reduction strategies that have contained utility costs, resulted in reductions of several hundred thousand dollars in building services budget.
o Departmental administrative staff and school-based support staff reductions have helped preserve classroom teaching positions in schools.
o Operational reductions have been made to departmental and school budgets.
o Downsizing of instructional support staff positions in schools and central office to meet the minimum for Standards of Quality requirements set by the General Assembly has resulted in cost savings in personnel expenses.
o Increasing class size in grades 4-12 and reducing secondary staffing with a change in schedule to an 8-period day.
o Freezing of salaries for the past two years for all school division employees has contained personnel expenses for salaries and benefits.
Other budget process strategies implemented by the School Board and staff are used to increase the capability of the Board to forecast future needs and potential reductions or redirection of fiscal resources.
o The Board now uses a biennial budgeting plan (since 2008) rather than an annual plan.
o Staff has put departmental audits in place to determine where cost efficiency measures can be implemented. The Resource Utilization Study led to this process.
o An external School Financial Advisory Council has been implemented to provide an external review and ongoing fiscal impact focus for the school division budget. The council is composed of members from the business field and private sector (see page A-12 in budget request executive summary)
o A program evaluation process will be implemented in the next budget cycle to determine further efficiencies in fiscal resource use.
o The school division now is included in local government’s five-year planning process and projections.
Our community doesn’t expect Albemarle County Public Schools to be average. No one expects our schools or division to be a “C” achiever when it comes to comparing our performance against our competitive market, the state, or nation. Representatives of the business community shared the importance of strong public schools with the School Board in October 2010. They clearly said that the quality of our schools and the depth of our programs make a difference in their capability to recruit, hire and retain employees. The Board of Supervisors has noted in its economic development plan that strong public schools contribute to the economic vitality and quality of life of the community. The Charlottesville- Albemarle Association of Realtors (CAAR) has indicated that the quality of public schools influences the property values and resale turnaround of homes in our county. The public has indicated that public schools represent one of the top investments of the Board of Supervisors in our community and it’s our taxpayers top ranked quality service priority according to local government’s Citizen Survey.
Albemarle is one of the most highly educated communities in the United States. Parents who live here or who move here expect top-notch school programs, services, and educators. Our community expects “A+” schools and our staff bring A+ work to our young people every day. Our graduates go to the very best colleges in the United States (p.A-7 and 8.) We are top tier in the state in the percentage of students graduating with a college-ready, advanced studies diploma. Our young performing artists are some of the best in the Commonwealth. However, Governor McDonnell has established through the Governor’s Commission on Higher Education that Virginia’s Pk-20 “schooling” status quo is no longer good enough. To secure Virginia’s economic future, our public schools, Pk-20, must continue to increase the competency and numbers of high school graduates as a prerequisite to increasing college graduates by 100,000 in the next fifteen years.
Excellent public schools are a matter of national security, the economic future of the nation, and our democratic way of life.Unfortunately, we are losing ground in supporting our top quality programs as a result of increasing numbers of students and decreasing revenues over the past three years, mostly as a result of budget actions by the Commonwealth. No one wants to see our schools as average- not our Board of Supervisors, our School Board, our business community, our citizens, our parents, or our educators. We all want the best we can offer our young people. We know their future depends on it. We know our future depends on it.