ACPS unveils schools budget with focus on employee salary increases

ACPS unveils schools budget with focus on employee salary increases
A student washes their hands while a staff member looks on at Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School. (Photo Courtesy / ACPS)

By Cody Mello-Klein |

Budget season kicked off last week, as Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings Ed.D. presented his preliminary fiscal year 2023 schools budget to the School Board.

During the Jan. 6 board meeting, Hutchings proposed a $345.8 million combined funds budget. It includes a $316.2 million operating budget for the 2022-23 school year, alongside grants and special projects.

The most significant investment in the proposed FY2023 budget is in employee compensation. In his presentation to the School Board, Hutchings noted that ACPS, like school districts nationwide, faces ongoing challenges with staff retention and recruitment. There is an ongoing national teacher and bus driver shortage, with pandemic-induced burnout the heart of the issue, according to Hutchings.

“Burnout, it is real,” Hutchings said. “It is a national issue not only with our educators but as well with our bus driver shortage and just with the education profession alone.”

Hutchings proposed several pay increases in an attempt to make ACPS salaries competitive with those in the region. The proposed FY2023 budget includes salary increases ranging from 3.5% to 2% depending on what step an employee is on the scale, according to ACPS Chief Financial Officer Dominic Turner. When averaged across all positions, it equates to a 2.6% salary increase.

There is also a 2.5% market rate adjustment for fulltime, permanent staff and a one-time 2% payment of base salary for employees who are not eligible for a step increase because they are on a hold step or top of their scale. The budget also includes market rate adjustment for specific employee groups, including bus drivers, bus monitors, bus mechanics, paraprofessionals and elementary and middle school principals and department chiefs.

The focus on staff pay increases aligns with the budget that former Gov. Ralph Northam proposed at the end of last year, which aimed to increase teacher pay by 10.25% over two years.

Other than compensation adjustments, the budget also continues ACPS’ investment in equity and social, emotional and academic learning supports.

“During the pandemic, we have seen a decline in our enrollment, but due to additional challenges that we are facing, our budget, it does propose to leave our staffing at its current level. That is intentional,” Hutchings said. “We know that our staff, as well as our students, have been experiencing trauma throughout these past two years. We know that there has been social, emotional and academic learning loss, and in order for us to be able to mitigate and provide the necessary supports for that we are going to maintain that.”

Hutchings’ budget also proposes a redeployment of resources to reach Hispanic males, one of the most at-risk populations in ACPS, further funding for K-4 literacy and trauma-informed support resources for students. Through the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, ACPS has also been able to allocate $6.1 million for special populations; $4.1 million for extended school programming; $3.2 million for technology and $2.8 million for mental health services in the FY2023 budget. Although $16.2 million is set aside for SEAL supports in FY2023, ACPS will be able to allocate more than $50 million of ESSER funds over the next three years.

The meeting on Jan. 6 was just the start of the budget process. There are two budget work sessions scheduled for Jan. 13 and Jan. 20, and the session on Jan. 20 includes a public hearing. City Council is scheduled to vote on the overall city budget, including the funds appropriated for ACPS, in April, with the board’s final approval of ACPS FY2023 budget on June 2.