By Chris Teale (File photo)
Schools Superintendent Alvin Crawley had one eye on the present and one eye looking toward the future while asking for further monetary help from city council with his latest operating budget proposal for Alexandria City Public Schools, which he presented on January 14 at a meeting of the Alexandria City School Board.
Crawley’s plan proposes a total of $278.9 million in spending for fiscal 2017, a $10.5 million increase over the fiscal 2016 budget. Included in that total is a request for $210.6 million from city coffers, an increase of $11.8 million over last year’s appropriation. Were the city to grant this level of funding, ACPS officials say local per-pupil spending, which currently sits at $13,483 per student, would increase for the first time in five years.
During the meeting, the first official one for the new school board since its installation on January 7, Crawley said his proposal is driven primarily by a desire to cope with growing student enrollment while maintaining strong academic performance. According to projections, ACPS enrollment will continue to grow at an average of 3.6 percent annually over five years, and plateau around 2030.
“We believe that this budget will allow us to move forward with the fiscal resources that are necessary to meet the needs of our students and remain competitive,” Crawley said. “We know that there are fiscal constraints and have been good stewards of taxpayer dollars, but believe that this is a fair and reasonable budget that reflects our board’s stated priorities and helps us to create the opportunities today that will ensure a better tomorrow for our students.”
Included in Crawley’s proposal is a $6.1 million initial expenditure to go towards two new ACPS facilities: the proposed new elementary school on the West End to try to ease crowding in that part of the city, and a drive to make more classroom space by centralizing the provision of pre-K in one building.
Both buildings are projected to be open in time for the 2017-18 school year. Currently, ACPS’s pre-K offerings are spread across multiple schools, and Crawley said a centralized effort would have more than just one benefit.
“We believe that this will not only address capacity, but also strengthen the coordination and delivery of our pre-K services to students and their families,” he said.
In addition, the budget includes $5.8 million for new teachers, $3.5 million to support the goals of the ACPS 2020 Strategic Plan regarding academic achievement, family engagement, business partnerships and effective operations; additional nursing and mental health professionals to work with students; funds for new textbooks, teacher mentoring and security monitoring; and initiatives to aid communication between ACPS and the community, including parent liaisons and translators.
Crawley’s proposal also calls for a full step increase in pay for all eligible staff, a small bonus for staff not eligible for the increase and the adoption of the City of Alexandria’s living wage — $13.13 an hour — as a new minimum wage, which officials said will keep ACPS competitive with nearby school systems.
To help pay for these proposals, the budget suggests eliminating vacant positions, revising how community partnerships are structured and reducing spending on substitute teachers and transportation services.
“All of these initiatives allow us to meet the needs of our students, to differentiate their learning, to support our staff, to increase our accountability and overall effectiveness as a school division,” Crawley said.
Crawley warned that if the city does not step up its funding levels, ACPS is at risk of not being able to cope with the challenges it faces. The city appropriated $198 million to city schools in the fiscal 2016 budget, approximately 83 percent of the funds available to ACPS, with other revenue coming from state, local and federal funds among other sources.
“If we do not receive the funding that’s requested, we know that it will have an impact on our ability to provide the necessary services for our students, and we know that it will have an impact on our ability to address crowding in our school buildings,” he said.
The school board and residents will get their chance to shape the budget proposal in the near future, starting with four work sessions for school board members beginning January 21. Public hearings will follow on January 28 and February 23, with the latter hearing coming after City Manager Mark Jinks releases his proposed city budget.
The school board is slated to approve its combined funds budget on March 3, with a joint work session between the board and city council to follow on March 9. After the city adopts its budget on May 5, a public hearing on the schools’ budget follows on May 10 before three add/delete sessions. The final ACPS budget is scheduled to be adopted on May 26.
To read more about the ACPS budget proposal, go to http://www.acps.k12.va.us/budgets/.