$236 million ACPS budget would shorten intersession, overhaul adult education

$236 million ACPS budget would shorten intersession, overhaul adult education

Superintendent Morton Sherman unveiled Alexandria City Public Schools’ $236-million fiscal year 2013 operating budget Thursday, a proposal that shakes up several of the district’s popular programs.

The proposal, which has yet to garner approval by Alexandria City Council, represents a 2.4 percent increase on ACPS’s FY12 operating budget, slightly less than the rate of inflation in the past year. ACPS officials hope the city council will see fit to increase their annual contribution — the bulk of the district’s dollars — by 3.2 percent for a total of about $180 million.

When expected revenue from grants and school nutrition funds are added to the calculation, the district’s overall spending would rise 1.8 percent above last year’s outlay.

“It is, from many of our points of view, about the best budget we’ve put together for a lot of reasons. Most important, it’s for the good of the kids,” Sherman said at a Thursday press conference. “It’s a coalescing of the work we’ve done these past couple of years and … economically, it respects the economy — local finances.”

Rising student enrollment is largely behind the spending increases. Officials estimate the district’s student population will fall just shy of 13,000 next year, a 3.3 percent increase from this year and a 14 percent rise since 2009.

A comparison of the FY2013 budget to years past. (Cat VanVliet)

To meet the needs of the district’s ballooning student body, administrators overhauled several key programs, freeing up critical dollars, Sherman said. Officials already have outlined changes to the adult education program, detailing their proposals after rumors officials planned to cut it spread through the community.

High school equivalency degrees will remain available, though adult students pursuing a GED likely will have fewer one-on-one opportunities with instructors. Much of their course work can be completed online and the district will provide additional computers at its family and community engagement centers across the city. English language learner classes will likewise continue at the district’s FACE centers.

In another twist, the budget proposal calls for reducing the intersession programs at ACPS’s two quasi-year-round schools, Mount Vernon Community School and Samuel Tucker Elementary School, from five weeks to three. The move allows officials to pool the savings for extended learning programs at the district’s other schools.

Then, for example, teachers at the city’s schools could apply for some of the rerouted dollars to offer extra tutoring, ELL courses or extended learning opportunities, Sherman said. Officials also cut elementary-level summer school programs to bolster the fund.

The district also is changing up the way it partners with community organizations. Officials still want to work with outside affiliates, Sherman said, but beginning in FY13, those groups will have to apply for funding and show they meet core district goals, ensuring the opportunities actually improve students’ education.

If approved as is, the budget will keep classroom sizes among the smallest in Northern Virginia, provide a full step to eligible employees midway through the year and offset about $6.8 million in new Virginia Retirement System costs handed down by Richmond, Sherman said.