By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
School board members voted unanimously to approve Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings’ fiscal year 2020 combined funds budget and FY2020-2029 Capital Improvement Program budget on June 6.
The FY2020 combined funds budget, also known as the operating budget, totals $286,415,016, an increase of $10,991,952, or 3.9 percent, from FY2019. The majority of ACPS’ revenues, about $231.7 million, came from the city’s FY2020 budget, which city council adopted on May 1, while the remaining funds came from state, local and federal sources.
This year’s budget process was a first for Meagan Alderton, Jacinta Greene, Michelle Rief, Chris Suarez and Heather Thornton, all of whom were elected in November.
At the school board’s June 6 budget adoption meeting, several members said the process hadn’t been easy.
“There were some really difficult conversations that all of us had behind the scenes,” Suarez said at the meeting. “This was very much a group effort to get to the point where we could do right by the 20 custodians, where we could add a lot of [full-time positions] to support special education, to support restorative practices, to do so much to improve our schools.”
A do-or-die issue for many in the community during this year’s budget process was Hutchings’ proposal to outsource 30 ACPS custodial positions to private contractors.
After community uproar, Hutchings proposed an altered plan on May 9, which the school board adopted with the budget on June 6. Now, instead of eliminating all 30 positions, ACPS will retain 20 of the positions and outsource the jobs of 10 workers with five years of experience or less.
The restoration of 20 custodial positions increased the total FY2020 expenditures by $1,106,175. The school board also added $357,757 for custodial supplies and $39,600 in professional development funding for teachers during add/delete sessions.
To offset the adds, the school board reduced FY2020 funding for substitute teachers by $180,093. Hutchings also proposed a new staff initiative during the May 9 school board meeting to compensate for the reduced substitute fund. As proposed, the plan would have office administrators with teaching licenses, including the superintendent, volunteer one day each quarter as substitute teachers. The school board has not voted on this new initiative.
The school board also shifted $708,750 in funding for textbooks to a math textbook renewal program in the CIP budget and eliminated $42,599 in funding for technology hardware and athletic professional development. The additional budget gap is filled by the decrease in the cost of custodial contracts.
School board member Michelle Rief voted in support of the decision but cautioned ACPS against relying on contract workers.
“I think we’re moving in a positive direction, but … I question if outsourcing is the approach that is going to get our buildings to where they need to be,” Rief said. “We’re paying people in our community less money to do the same work. [These companies] are less invested in our schools. These companies are taking a cut off the top for their profit management, and that’s taxpayer dollars. And I believe that quality and accountability go down.”
During the school board’s add/delete session on May 23, Rief suggested that ACPS evaluate the effectiveness of using contract custodians over the next two years before contracts are set to be renewed.
Other initiatives funded in the budget include nutrition, safety protocol, additional staff positions for special education and more than a dozen renovation and repair projects for school facilities.
The school nutrition fund increased by $150,334, from FY2019 to a total of $10,831,477. A delay for the Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology’s cafeteria renovation from FY2019 to FY2020 accounts for the majority of the increase.
The budget also aims to improve ACPS’ safety protocol, with $37,000 set aside for Violent Intruder Training and additional refinement of school safety plans and around $900,000 for upgrades to security systems and cameras for all schools.
The budget includes funding for new positions and increased wages for ACPS staff “to support research that the quality of teachers, administrators and staff goes hand-in-hand with the quality of education that ACPS is able to deliver,” according to a news release from ACPS.
New positions to be added include two student services positions, a Title I coordinator and a communications specialist dedicated to ensuring ACPS’ compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The budget also funds six new full-time positions and one part-time position to address the needs of students with disabilities, as well as 11 staff positions that will off- set the increased demands of growing enrollment.
Teacher, administrator and staff salaries will increase by 1 percent due to a market adjustment. Eligible staff members could qualify for an additional raise of up to 2.6 percent on top of the market adjustment.
To balance the 1 percent market rate adjustment, the budget includes changes to ACPS employees’ health care benefit plans.
With maintenance and facilities upkeep an ongoing issue in ACPS, the budget also dedicates funds for several school renovation, repair and upgrade projects.
The budget includes funding for renovations at George Washington Middle School and repairs and upgrades at Francis C. Hammond Middle School, John Adams Elementary School, Matthew Maury Elementary School and Cora Kelly. It also includes funding for upgrades for Jefferson-Houston K-8 School, Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy, James K. Polk Elementary School, Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School, William Ramsay Elementary School, Charles Barrett Elementary School and both of the T.C. Williams High School campuses.
Mount Vernon Community School, one of the division’s most outdated facilities that has had increasingly urgent maintenance issues in recent years, will receive almost $3 million for a kitchen update and other work identified in a November 2018 building assessment.
One of ACPS’ largest facility projects remains rebuilding the Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, which involves using the old Patrick Henry building as a swing space for Douglas MacArthur students in the interim. While there is no funding for the project set aside in the FY2020 operating budget, any project costs through FY2020 will be funded by the FY2019 operating budget. Additional funding will be part of Hutchings’ proposed FY2021-2030 CIP budget next year, according to an ACPS news release.
Alongside the FY2020 operating budget, the school board also approved the FY2020-2029 CIP budget, which totals $479,460,304 in capital allocations per the city council adopted budget.
About $36.8 million of ACPS’ FY2020-2029 CIP is dedicated to FY2020. Those funds will primarily go toward the first stage of the high school project, a connected high school network model that aims to address student capacity issues at T.C. Williams High School by creating connected satellite campuses. $15.4 million in “soft costs” for the high school project is set aside for FY2020.
FY2020 CIP budget funds will also be dedicated to the modernization of three elementary schools – Douglas MacArthur, George Mason and Cora Kelly – and the construction of an additional school for use as a swing space to accommodate an expected growth in enrollment, according to a news release.
“When the finance side of the house and the academic side of the house are working hand-in-hand, we can do great things for ACPS,” Dominic Turner, ACPS’ newly named chief financial officer, said.