Last month, the School Board finalized the budget for the 2015-2016 school year. Compared with the Board’s proposed plan, the operating budget was cut by $2.2 million and the capital improvement budget was cut by $3.3 million to reflect the smaller-than-requested contribution from the city.
Even though the City Council voted to increase funding to ACPS by $1.0 million over the City Manager’s proposed budget, that still left sizable shortfalls in both budgets. One bright side of this year’s budget process: Council Member Tim Lovain was instrumental in persuading city staff to calculate a funding benchmark for the schools based on expected enrollment, rather than allocating a seemingly arbitrary amount to ACPS. That benchmark calculation resulted in a larger allocation than the City Manager’s proposed budget, and will hopefully lead to improved conversations in future years about how ACPS funding is determined.
Nevertheless, given the city’s weak economic condition, and despite a projected enrollment increase of 3.7%, the overall budget is only 2.9% higher than the 2014-2015 school year. The total average cost per pupil will be $16,858, a 1.7% decrease from this past year’s cost per pupil of $17,153.
On the operating budget side, ACPS will provide a needed full-step pay increase to its staff. But cuts were made to grants to nonprofit community partners such as the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium, and summer school was pared back.
The most immediate concern is on the capital improvement side. While funds were included for a new K-8 school at Patrick Henry, funds to expand classroom space at the Minnie Howard campus of T.C. Williams were reduced. The 2016 budget includes some money to design the needed addition at Minnie Howard but nothing for the actual construction, which will delay the start of the project into 2017 at least.
Meanwhile, Minnie Howard is not large enough to accommodate the rising seventh-grade class. If you are a parent of a middle-school student, it behooves you to ask those who are running for city elections in November how they plan to address this looming crisis if elected.
Speaking of city elections, the following school board candidates have been certified to appear on the November ballot:
District A: Bill Campbell, Harold “Hal” Cardwell, and Karen Graf
District B: Cindy Anderson, Kelly Carmichael Booz, Mimi Goff, Margaret Lorber and Veronica Nolan
District C: Ronnie Campbell, Daria Dillard, Ramee Gentry, Pat Hennig and Chris Lewis
Current school board members Stephanie Kapsis (District A) and Justin Keating and Marc Williams (District B) are not seeking re-election.