ACPS Budget Proposal Moves Forward

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After almost four weeks of sustained, back-and-forth discussion, the bottom line still remains the same.

The Alexandria City Public School (ACPS) budget for the fiscal year 2010 has undergone several changes additions and subtractions, revisions, undos and redos but the final tally is the same as what ACPS Superintendent Morton Sherman presented on January 8.

The budget for the school division that is expected to be passed on to City Council following the School Boards adoption meeting on February 5 remains at $197,236,360. The City Council holds the final decision to approve the budget as it stands or ask for further revisions.

It will hopefully be a unanimous vote, said School Board Chair Yvonne Folkerts. I think its been a smoother process this year, I think weve all worked together enough this is our third year working on the budgets together I think we all have a sense of everyones priorities and interests.

The final budget figure represents a 0.9 percent decrease from the 2009 budget and a 1.5 percent drop in the requested city appropriation, despite rapidly growing enrollment figures.

The overall cut in spending, a first for Alexandria, is still less than the citys recommended cut of 2 percent, though the proposed ACPS budget contains the sharpest reduction of of any school system in the region, Sherman said.

I think the Council will be able to recognize that we worked honestly, openly and with great diligence, that we were the first division [in the region] to go out and cut a budget, Sherman said. The citys resolution that provided the recommended 2 percent reduction to ACPS was non-binding, he added.

Following the original budget proposal, the Board and ACPS senior staff went about a process of revisions that culminated in a final add-delete session on February 3.

Among the most noticeable revisions, board members voted to remove a proposed cut in custodial staff that would have eliminated 61 full-time ACPS jobs and hired a private contractor to provide the same services.
Instead, the staff is retained but their workday has been shortened to 7.5 hours and positions lost to retirement will not be filled in order to cut costs.. This effort will retain 51 full-time employees.

The Board also chose to add two full-time educational positions, including one elementary science teacher and an additional math teacher is provided for Cora Kelly Elementary School by realigning math coaches.
The original proposed cuts in Latin, German, art and music teacher positions (5 full-time staff) at the secondary level cuts that were addressed a great deal at the public hearing were removed from the budget, but will be offset by cutting five elective teachers in subject areas to be determined by course enrollment.

Additionally, ACPS will now partially subsidize the Super Summer instructional program rather than make the program completely self-sustaining, a move which reduces program costs for students.
Folkerts said that she thought this years revision process yielded less change overall than in the recent past.

While some jobs were added and many jobs were saved, the Board opted not to amend Shermans proposed half-year raise (step increase) for staff after two lengthy debates that featured impassioned, thoughtful comments from many members. The discussion centered on balancing the needs of employees with the current economic climate.

A motion for a full-year raise came to a vote, but did not pass, a decision that Folkerts thought was appropriate.

I think we did the right thing to support the Superintendents recommendation of a half-year step increase, Folkerts said. I think we all realize its more important to save jobs than it is to be able to give everybody a full step increase. A full step wouldve forced us to eliminate jobs and I dont think anyone wants us to do that.

Following the Boards February 3 meeting to finalize changes within the budget, Sherman thought that the financial plan remained a good one for students in Alexandria
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The changes that were made tonight are sincere attempts to support our kids, to do better for our kids, Sherman said. Im cautious and optimistic about how that will play out when it gets to the City Council. Im cautious in the sense that people will be looking closely at the changes that were made and why they didnt get us to that 2 percent goal that the City Council has established.

However, Im most optimistic that the city cares deeply about its kids, that it cares about the welfare of its kids and that greater good will prevail.

In addition to the 2010 budget, ACPS could stand to benefit from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that is now in Congress, according to budget supervisor Robert Watling.
The potential funds, which would total more than $9.5 million over the next two years, according to a document provided by the House Committee on Education and Labor, would not be available for use on items already within the schools pending budget.

Should the economic stimulus bill pass, the money it provides will supplement school spending for educating students with disabilities, helping low-achieving students master curricula through additional instruction and also bolster construction spending, Watling said.

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