School Division Proposes Deficit Budget

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Superintendent Matt Haas presents a preliminary 2024-25 budget to the School Board on February 22. Courtesy ACPS.

Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) Superintendent Matt Haas presented a draft of the division’s 2024-25 budget that is $13 million in the red to the School Board February 22. Anticipated revenues of $260 million lagged proposed expenditures of $273 million—a 5% increase from last year. The increase is requested even as total student enrollment dropped this year to 13,459 from a pre-pandemic high of 14,032, which means that spending in the 2025 budget will top $20,000 per student for the first time, vaulting from $13,000 per student as recently as 2018.  

Haas blamed the shortfall on reduced funding from the state, which is determined using an equity-based calculation called the Local Composite Index (LCI). The LCI is based on a school division’s “ability to pay” for its school operations by taking into account how well the county is doing (in terms of its real property value, adjusted gross income of residents, and retail sales), and how many students are enrolled. As Albemarle’s wealth has increased and its enrollment has stayed flat or declined, its “ability to pay” has gone up and the state will contribute less—Albemarle predicts about $8 million less this year. 

Chart showing comparison between total Albemarle county student enrollment (green) and per-pupil division spending (blue) from 2018 to present.

The decrease in state funding will be offset by a $10 million increase in local funding due to higher property tax revenues in Albemarle, but ACPS is still requesting $13 million more to provide a 3% teacher and staff pay increase ($6 million) and more staffing for three types of support instructors. Last year ACPS hired 24 Social Emotional Learning Coaches, who “help students with their feelings and relationships,” using one-time federal American Rescue Plan funds, and now must fund those positions going forward (plus three more) for $2.6 million.

Similarly, the division will spend $1 million to add 10 “intervention” instructors who were federally funded last year to this year’s budget to provide services to students identified as academically at-risk in reading or math, and will hire an additional 10 Special Education and English Learner teachers for $1 million. In addition, Haas described a $4 million “baseline adjustment”—an amount that was not budgeted last year but was nonetheless spent by the division and thus will become part of the new baseline going forward. 

Slide from school division budget presentation noting the increasing proportion of societal responsibilities that public schools have taken on from 1900 to 2020. Photo: ACPS.

“The biggest part [of that adjustment] is the 2% pay increase that we provided employees during the course of this school year,” he said. “We didn’t make a technical adjustment or appropriate funding to do that, we just smushed it into the current spending plan. So, we have to appropriate it this year as part of the operating budget.” 

In explaining the first unbalanced budget he has presented in the last five years, Haas paid particular attention to the “evolution of public school responsibilities” from 1900 to the present. He showed a pie chart split between the duties of public schools versus society that over time constantly shifted weight to the schools. “During the last several decades, public schools have taken on many responsibilities that were once viewed as the responsibility of society, such as physical education, full-day kindergarten, school lunch programs, sex education, and mental health awareness and assistance,” said Haas. “And this list doesn’t count the last few years with the onset of COVID-19, which completely transformed the role of schools in our society. Schools are best situated to do this work—the issue is, we are not granted the resources to do the work.”

ACPS spending items that are currently unfunded in its proposed budget. Photo: ACPS.

Competitive teacher pay is a high priority for ACPS, which set a goal of wages in the 60th percentile among counties in Virginia. “There’s a lot of reasons why we want to have this increase,” said Haas. “One that particularly hits home for me is that we’ve had a lot of success with provisional licensure—with paraprofessionals joining our teaching force. There’s a lot of diversity in our paraprofessional core and as they move into the teaching ranks, you saw a 2% bump in our teachers of color last year, which was historic for Albemarle.” He defended the division’s DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives, saying that, “I’m convinced that the more diverse we are as a school system, particularly in our teaching ranks, the more successful we will be.”

To address the funding gap, Haas said that it’s possible state revenue streams may change in the next few months and provide more funding than expected. Barring that, the division could make budget reductions “across the board,” so that “everybody feels a little pain across the organization, but nothing crippling.”

Current funding gap in ACPS’ proposed 2024-25 budget. Photo: ACPS.

“We could also reduce those proposals,” he said, referring to the wage increase and instructor hires, “but I do think that’s less likely because, at least from a staff perspective to meet the needs of our kids, we need to keep moving forward with those.”

At a later budget work session on February 29, Director of Budget and Planning Maya Kumazawa gave an update to the board on the potential for more state revenue. She said that the two houses of the Virginia legislature are working on competing school funding bills this spring, and that she anticipated ACPS would likely receive between $2 and $6 million more in funding as a compromise bill coalesces. That amount would not fill the entire gap in the budget request, and Kumazawa said that the division may have to consider cutting spending in the operating budget, in organizational structures and programs, in central office or school positions, and/or in the current year’s proposals.

Read more about the ACPS budget and approval process at k12albemarle.org/budget. 

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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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