Pay Raise Drives Increase in County Schools Budget

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Dr. Matt Haas, Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent. Photo: ACPS.

Albemarle County schools Superintendent Matt Haas presented a $210 million budget request for the 2021-22 school year to the School Board on February 18. The funding request is a $16 million (8%) increase from the current year’s budget, fueled largely by salary increases for teachers and staff and a $15 per hour minimum wage for full-time regular employees. 

“The increases will allow the division to better remain competitive with neighboring school divisions and to help ensure it is able to recruit and retain highly qualified professionals to support students,” read a division press release. The funding will support a 3% pay increase for teachers and a 2% increase for classified employees. (At press time, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced that teachers should receive a 5% pay increase, which may alter Albemarle’s budget request as it moves through the approval process.)

The proposed budget is balanced in that the funding request equals the total revenues expected from county and state sources, both of which are up sharply due to a strengthening economy. An additional $4 million in operational savings due to this year’s school closures will be rolled into next year’s budget as well. Although the division projects “an increase of 838 students, the equivalent of adding a middle school,” the increase follows the loss of approximately 900 students at the beginning of the current school year as families un-enrolled their students amid COVID-19 concerns.

In his budget message, Haas pointed to two “commitments” to programs that he says will benefit under his funding request. The first is the replacement of five school resource officers (Albemarle County law enforcement officers who spend time in and support local school populations) with eight new school safety specialists, who will focus on “best practices for student, employee, and school visitor safety,” according to the division. “This team,” Haas said, “will be designed to improve our school climates, student attendance, and in-school relationships with students.”

The second priority Haas highlighted is an expansion of its Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) program, which will require “all newly hired teachers to earn a micro-credential or certification in CRT strategies and practices within the first three years of being hired.” The budget for replacing the SRO’s with SSS’s will increase from $265,000 to $557,000, in part because the SRO’s were subsidized by the county police department, while the CRT budget will increase by $356,000 to accommodate three new staff hires.

During the summer of 2021, the division plans to use federal CARES funding to offer community and school-based summer programs to address the social, emotional, and physical health needs of pre-K to 12th grade students. These programs will be staffed by community youth and service providers who have proven expertise in these areas, and are separate from any academic enrichment programs offered over the summer. A combination of CARES and division funds will direct $8.5 million toward this effort.

The county school board will hold several work sessions ahead of its March 11 meeting, where it will decide whether to adopt the funding request. On March 15 the board will present its request to the county Board of Supervisors, and will adopt a final budget for the 2021-22 school year in May. 

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Lisa Martin joined the Gazette in 2017 and writes about education and local government. She also writes in-depth pieces about division-wide education issues and broader investigative pieces on topics from recycling to development to living with wildlife. Her Coyotes in Crozet story won a 2017 Virginia Press Association “Best in Show” award for the Gazette. Martin has a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, taught college for several years, and writes fiction and poetry. She co-authored a children’s trilogy about two adventuring cats, the Anton and Cecil series, which got rave reviews from the New York Times Book Review, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and others.

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