School district sends $210M spending plan to council


Despite Alexandria City Public Schools controversial multimillion-dollar capital improvement plan, officials believe the districts operating budget will pass without any hiccups. 
School officials proposed spending roughly $210.4 million in fiscal year 2012, a 7.2 percent increase over this years plan. The dollars will go to maintaining low class sizes, including in the elementary schools where enrollment has surged in recent years, employee raises and various ACPS-run programs.  
I think we are in great shape on the operating budget, said Yvonne Folkerts, school board chairwoman. [City council] came up with this proposed revenue sharing model for us and weve committed to that target and were very close to that target.
Its an assessment shared by Vice Mayor Kerry Donley. The council and school board are on the same page with the operating budget, he said. 
On the operating side, I think were fine, Donley said. We established and gave them a target. They met that target. It would be hard, absent some major revenue shortfalls, to back off the goal we set for the school board back in the fall.
The city council must approve the spending plan in its final budget, which allocates more to the school system than any other department year after year.
Donley remains cautious about the districts plans to extend the school year by two days. As Superintendent Morton Sherman prepares to meet with the state board of education, which must approve the school calendar adjustment, Donley worries a longer year could require another bump in spending. 
But Folkerts says the school board already has taken added costs linked with the extended calendar into consideration. About $2 million has been set-aside for the extra days, she said. 
While officials see eye to eye on the FY12 budget, ACPSs $372.6 million, 10-year capital improvement plan continues to color financial talks between ACPS and the city council. Folkerts and Donley both pointed to the CIP, which officials discussed together earlier this month, as a sticking point. 
Its always tough to get through this and we always appreciate the councils willingness to work with us and help us out, she said. They were a little taken back by our CIP, but we really need to have that conversation. Weve done so many of the things we felt we could do without coming to ask them for more money.
City and school staffs are working together to find a way to begin work on the first three years of the financial roadmap, which includes potential projects at the Patrick Henry and Jefferson-Houston schools. 
With both boards expected to resume financial talks on March 30, Councilman Frank Fannon has called on ACPS officials to shift dollars from the operating budget to the capital improvement plan. 
Wed love to continue to build new schools and new roads and bunch of new things, but we just cant do it, Fannon said. Take a look at your operating budget. If we need to have some more schools, more money for new construction, is there some money in your operating budget you could consider moving over to the capital improvement budget?
Consultants fees, a point of recent contention for the school system, is one area where officials could consider moving into long-term capital improvement planning, he said.