By Chris Teale (File photo)
It took four and a half months and several difficult decisions, but the Alexandria City School Board formally adopted both its 2016 fiscal year combined funds budget as well as its 2016-2025 Capital Improvement Program budget at a meeting last week.
The combined funds budget totals approximately $261.7 million for fiscal 2016, in line with schools Superintendent Alvin Crawley’s original proposal of $260.5 million earlier this year and an increase of 2.7 percent from fiscal 2015’s combined funds budget of $254.2 million.
Included in the total figure is an appropriation of $198 million from the City of Alexandria, less than the originally requested $201 million in city dollars. The city funds approximately 83 percent of this year’s budget, with other revenue coming from the state, local and federal funds and other sources.
The new budget takes into account the growth in enrollment expected for the district, which the school board projects to grow by 3.7 percent between fiscal years 2015 and 2016. It also provides $13.5 million in grants and special projects and $7.95 million to the food and nutrition services budget. The average per-pupil spending for fiscal 2016 is $16,858, a 1.7 percent decrease in spending from the 2015 fiscal year, when average spending was $17,153.
Crawley believes the fiscal road map shows the school board’s commitment to providing the best possible education and workplace for students, teachers and staff.
“This budget reflects our commitment to our students in Alexandria City Public Schools,” Crawley said at the meeting. “It reflects the work that we need to do to make sure that we continue to provide a strong instructional program that is differentiated to meet the needs of our students and it also reflects our commitment to our staff.
“We know that we continue to have fiscal challenges as a community, and we will make sure that we are good stewards of taxpayer dollars, but we also know that there is much, much more work to be done, and with that work comes the resources. We will continue to work hard to make sure that we have the right resources in place and that as we continue to move forward, as we grow as a school division, that we are making sure that our resources are carefully and strategically aligned to produce the right outcomes for our students.”
Within the general funds budget, ACPS employees receive a full step pay raise for the first time since 2012, while certain positions paid below the living wage were re-examined. In addition, short-term substitute teachers will see a pay increase from $96 to $105 a day, having previously had one of the lowest rates of compensation in the region.
In addition, there will be increased staffing for the management of facilities improvement projects and to effectively manage the tracking of maintenance work and improve response times when maintenance requests are received.
“I certainly appreciate the alignment in really maintaining the priorities the board has set of including retaining and attracting the best talent,” said board member Marc Williams. “Our teachers, para-professionals and parents work so hard in central office and so hard for our students, and I’m very glad we can provide a full step [pay increase] this year.”
In the classroom, the approved budget includes more funding to support students with special needs and expands summer education programs. The International Academy Program will also move ahead in its implementation at Francis C. Hammond Middle School, while John
Adams and William Ramsay elementary schools both will receive funding for additional assistant principals.
Earlier this year, the school board and city were at an impasse over a more than $3 million funding gap for the school district. Then-Acting City Manager Mark Jinks proposed in March to increase funding by $6 million over last year’s budget, something he said at the time showed a continued commitment to public education but reflected that the city’s revenue growth was slower than in previous years.
ACPS was allocated an additional $1 million in city council’s final add/delete sessions before they approved their fiscal 2016 budget earlier this month to bring their funding increase up to $7 million over last year, a 3.6 percent increase.
In addition to the operating budget, the school board also approved its 10-year capital budget plan, a total of $305.9 million that includes $44.3 million for fiscal 2016, and is offset by $5.5 million of funds left over from the previous year. The plan includes funding for the expansion of Patrick Henry Elementary School into a pre-K-8 school for 800 students, with the school board set to decide whether to renovate the existing campus on Taney Avenue or construct a new building on the same site later this month.
But the approved CIP budget does not include enough funds for the planned expansion of the T.C. Williams High School Minnie Howard campus. That decision was taken due to a $3.2 million funding gap in the capital plan, something that disappointed board members, although they pledged to continue to look for solutions to problems of overcrowding.
“That [budget] adjustment will impact our ability to do some of the design work, particularly on the Minnie Howard campus,” said Crawley. “We know that again this impacts capacity and some of our work going forward, so we’ll continue to have discussions with our colleagues at the city as we look at our not only 10-year plan but our 30-year plan in terms of what we know needs to happen to build capacity and to make sure that we have good learning spaces for students at elementary, middle and high school.”
In spite of some cuts, the board felt that this year’s budget showed their commitment to education and ensuring that students have the best resources available, although they acknowledged that tough challenges lie ahead, especially when it comes to capacity.
“This budget reflects the board’s priority to support classroom needs first,” said school board chairwoman Karen Graf. “Capacity is part of that equation and is something which we cannot ignore. We need to provide a creative solution for the capacity issues in order to ensure equity within our school buildings.”