School board sends budget back to Alexandria city council

By Melissa Quinn

Alexandria City Public Schools officials approved the combined funds budget for fiscal 2014 last month, taking into account City Manager Rashad Young’s $3 million proposed reduction.

The $226.4 million operating budget is less than Superintendent Morton Sherman originally proposed but includes funding for the Family and Community Engagement program as well as the T.C. Williams satellite campus.

“We respect the fiscal challenges of city council, and we are pleased to provide a budget that is within the targets set by the mayor, council and city manager,” said school board Chairwoman Karen Graf in a statement. “Having taken office in January, the school board carefully considered the comments and input from the principals, community members and staff over the past two months.”

During the months-long process, residents have advocated on behalf of a variety of ACPS programs, including: visiting science teachers at elementary schools; FACE programs; science, technology, engineering and math curriculum; and various school renovations across the district.

Though the school board was given less than it originally proposed, members are confident they were able to allocate dollars for many of the desired programs.

“Right now, we have to be realistic and understand that we have to be fiscally responsible,” said board member Ronnie Campbell. “We had to put forward the priority things. … You do as much as you can for as many as you can.”

The school board provided $543,000 for FACE programs and $95,000 for STEM instruction as well as expressed continued support for the T.C. Williams satellite campus at Landmark Mall.

Additionally, the approved operating budget adds two full-time elementary school science teachers and three dual-language teachers at Mount Vernon Community School, where they will replace a reading coach.

“The feedback I’ve received is pretty positive as far as the budget is concerned,” Campbell said. “But it’s going to be a work in progress.”

Changes to the budget — such as funding for 10 additional teachers— cost ACPS about $1.4 million. However, the board saved more than $3.1 million by cutting 12 positions.

Staff reductions include the loss of a STEM coordinator, three employees at ACPS headquarters and two positions at the satellite campus, which opened in the fall.

In addition to the operating budget, the school board approved $11.3 million for grants and special projects and $7.1 million for nutrition services.

The $244.9 million combined funds budget represents a 2.4-percent uptick in spending from fiscal 2013. Even with the city manager’s cuts, the operating budget increased 3.9 percent from last year.

Campbell said board members are working with city council to address concerns the two bodies have with the budget and ensure previously started projects will receive future funding.

“You can’t do everything,” she said. “When we start a project, we want to finish it. If you keep deferring things to wait another year, the cost … is going to increase.”

The ACPS budget returns to the city council for the final stamp of approval. Alexandria’s top elected officials will formally adopt the budget Monday.

“Nothing is set in stone,” Campbell said. “That’s the way it is right now, but it all comes down to city council.”

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