Filling in the blanks: Proposed schools budget addresses key needs

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Filling in the blanks: Proposed schools budget addresses key needs
School board chairwoman Karen Graf
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By Karen Graf

As we return to school after a historic snowstorm, the Alexandria City School Board will begin to convene work sessions to review Superintendent Alvin Crawley’s proposed budget for fiscal 2017. Alexandria City Public Schools must accommodate what is turning into historic enrollment growth. This school year is the first year that the district’s available seats are fewer than the number of students we are serving.

While the true focus of an operating budget is on securing resources for high academic performance, this budget also proposed an increase in teachers with the goal of retaining existing class sizes and operating costs to plan for more school space. Our school board now has the daunting task of planning a level of funding that will increase per pupil spending for the first time in five years. We can officially say that the inn is full.

It is important for Alexandria that the school system reflects the values of its citizens and provides strong instructional staff to accommodate growing student enrollment. And in addition to academic achievement, some of our ACPS 2020 Strategic Plan goals are improving community engagement, expanding our business partnerships and strengthening our operations to serve our building and staff. This budget is about ensuring ACPS remains competitive with neighboring school divisions to continue the citizen investment and retention we have been experiencing in the past few years.

Growing student enrollment is the biggest driver in spending, impacting the budget directly. Enrollment is projected to continue to increase by 3.7 percent in fiscal 2017, taking ACPS to a total of 15,270 students. The district is projected to have nearly 19,000 students by fiscal 2026. The wonderful thing about these data points is that they come out of a partnered effort with city officials in the Long Range Educational Plan. To the credit of our school and city staff, our projections have been nearly 100 percent accurate.

The budget also proposes $6.1 million to lease two buildings, already adopted by the school board in the 10-year capital improvement program — one for a new elementary school on the West End and the other to centralize the district’s pre-kindergarten program. Not only will these buildings help to resolve growing enrollment and capacity constraints, but they also place future investment in our students by providing a quality preschool option.

Our goal is to create an optimal learning environment for all our students over the next decade by linking the capital and operating budgets. This budget provides creative solutions to the capacity issues we face while being mindful of each dollar. The budget reflects input from community members, advisory committee meetings and councils, parents, students and staff. It addresses the priorities established by the school board in the areas of operations, achievement, recruitment and retention and intervention.

The school board will hold a series of budget work sessions on the fiscal 2017 proposed budget and a public hearing is scheduled for February 11. Details on the budget, including the full schedule of work sessions and public hearings, may be found at www.acps.k12.va.us/budgets/. The school board is scheduled to adopt the budget at the beginning of March. Please reach out to your school board members if you have thoughts or feedback as we work through the topics in February.

The writer is the chairwoman of the Alexandria City School Board.

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