ACPS to avoid major program cuts in budget

By Erich Wagner (File photo)

Alexandria City Public Schools likely will avoid major cuts to educational programs despite receiving $1.2 million less than asked for from City Hall.

When Superintendent Alvin Crawley unveiled his proposed $252.8 million budget for fiscal 2015 in January, he warned that any less could “go into the school house,” affecting instructional efforts.

But an anticipated increase in federal grant funding, combined with the delay of fund balance transfers until the new fiscal year and other unexpected savings, means the school system can fund its initiatives unencumbered, he said at a school board work session Tuesday.

Under the latest iteration of Crawley’s budget proposal, all district staff will receive a 1-percent cost-of-living raise, while school support staff will receive a 1-percent raise on top of that, an increase over the originally proposed budget. Elementary schools will receive more counselors and psychologists and schools’ flex positions, where principals choose which specialists can best help students, will be fully funded.

Stacey Johnson, the district’s chief financial officer, said staff was able to offset most of the $1.2 million shortfall by delaying scheduled transfers of funds for Medicaid and employee health care and retirement.

“We take all benefits and collections from payroll into one fund, and eventually there are excess funds,” Johnson explained. “We want to maintain a minimum of six months – preferably six or seven months – of fund balance, but everything after that we’re able to transfer into the operating budget.

“The transfer wasn’t necessary in terms of our costs for the current year, so … we’ll just do it for [fiscal] 2015.”

Johnson said the district was also able to cut $200,000 from its facilities budget without reducing services because the company that does HVAC maintenance at schools unexpectedly chose not to increase its prices.

Officials were also able to move funding for 3.5 full time special education positions out of the operating budget, thanks to anticipated federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act grant funding.

“On the IDEA grant revisions, that’s based on preliminary federal funding allocations,” said Board Member Marc Williams. “Are we feeling good about that coming through?”

“We’ve received our second notice from the state on our allocation, and we do rely on that piece of information [every year],” Johnson said. “We do feel confident that will be the amount.”

The reconsolidation of the George Washington and Francis C. Hammond campuses into two middle schools also led to savings, Crawley said. Officials were able to cut two currently vacant English language learning specialist positions at Hammond and the reshuffling removed Hammond from the list of Title I schools, allowing for increased federal funding at poorer elementary schools.

But School Board Vice Chairman Christopher Lewis wanted to ensure the district would be safe, should the situation at Hammond change. The Title I designation is determined primarily by the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced price meals at a school.

“I know 75 percent means you’re required to be Title I, and [at a projected 73 percent] we’re approaching that mandated point,” Lewis said. “Is there any chance an adjustment would push us over the limit?”

“We always use the March projections for the coming year to determine Title I schools, so that’s done,” Johnson said. “So even if it increases, we don’t have to reconsider it until [fiscal] 2016.”

The school board will hold its final meeting to tweak the budget Tuesday night and is slated to give its final approval at a meeting May 22.

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