News — 15 January 2009

In the midst of Alexandrias projected $10.5 million shortfall for the current fiscal year and the single largest enrollment increase in the state, the budget that Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Morton Sherman and his staff presented to the school board on January 8 represents a marked break from the past.

The final tally of the proposed budget for fiscal year 2010 $197.24 million is $1.76 million (0.9 percent) less than the schools budget for FY 2009.

In very difficult [economic] times we dont have anything except good things to say about what we tried to do for kids, Sherman said during his presentation to the Board. It is a good budget for our children and at the same time we believe its a fair budget for our staff.

The difficult times to which Sherman refers are clear, as are the consequences for Alexandrias schools. The economy is noticeably more difficult now than it was in late summer when Sherman took over as superintendent and the budget process began in earnest.

Along with the citys expected $10.5 million shortfall, Governor Tim Kaines recommended budget includes cutting direct K-12 spending by more than $360 million, which is expected to mean a $3.03 million drop in funds for ACPS, according to the budget document.

While Alexandria is being asked to appropriate $165.48 million (83.9 percent) of the budget, this too is a decrease from FY 2009 to the tune of $2.47 million (1.5 percent). This is yet another break from the recent past, during which the citys appropriation grew at a rate of about 4.5 percent each year, according to the budget document.

That figure of $3.03 million, projected within the budget by ACPS staff, is a more substantial drop than the state has forecasted. The state projected that it will be able to provide just over $1.7 million more than ACPS has budgeted for, said Margaret Byess, ACPS executive director of Financial Services, during the January 13 budget work session.

The philosophy we took with the budget was the most conservative approach we could possibly take, so that were not overestimating on any of these accounts, Sherman said at a work session. Were taking such a conservative approach that it might lead to better news Id rather be in a position where we have to come back to you and say, You know, we have an extra 10 cents we can invest somewhere.

Keeping with this conservative approach, ACPS budget officials cut $20.96 million, just over 10 percent of the FY 2009 budget, and reallocated it to fund increases of $19.21 million.

When you talk about reprogramming $20.9 million, that is a huge level of change, Byess said.

The net loss of staff under these circumstances is a little more than 79 full-time positions of this number, 61 full-time employees come from contracting out the custodial services for all secondary schools and the night custodial services for all elementary schools. Staff salaries and benefits make up nearly 85 percent of the budget.

The custodial contract that were considering provides a guarantee of employment for custodians who are leaving ACPS because of the transition, Byess said during the Jan. 8 budget presentation.

In addition to a net reduction in staffing, savings budget officials realized savings by foregoing a market rate pay increase for all employees and proposing a step increase (pay raises based upon increases in professional development and length of employment) halfway into the contract year, rather than for the entire year, according to Shermans budget message.

Instead, the school system saves $14 million by not maintaining the standard adjustments for salary and enrollment increases, Sherman said.

All employees every single one, including me are affected here; there is an impact upon each of us, Sherman said. Going into this, we are suggesting that every employee refrains from getting any raise starting July 1, and every single one of us would give of our own salaries and further, there would be an impact on nearly all of us in terms of benefits.

Other large savings came through reducing contract lengths for certain positions (roughly $0.5 million), increasing co-payments for health care services ($0.37 million) and reducing certain technology service costs ($0.5 million), according to the budget.

While the surge in enrollment lowers the average cost per student in the school system, more instructors are required to maintain the desired class sizes. To accommodate for the 10 percent growth in the student population during the last two years and the expected growth in the next year, the budget increases accordingly by $5.1 million and 70 new positions, Byess said.

During the question and answer period following his presentation, Sherman provided a visual model that expanded upon how the guiding principles keeping students and student-teacher relationship at the core they adopted to prepare the budget affect people system-wide.

There are different levels of impact, but its also the guiding principle that the core of a school division is about teachers and kids in the classroom, Sherman said. The rest of us, concentric circles going out from that core, are affected differently or more severely.

We tried hard in this budget to protect that core principle: its about teachers and children.

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