March 27, 2013
Albemarle County supervisors will soon set a tax rate which will determine whether Albemarle County Public Schools will receive some additional money to help close a budget gap.
The schools are facing a $1.2 million shortfall, as the division expects to see about 200 more students in its schools next year.
"That drives up everything," said Billy Haun, assistant superintendent for student learning. "You have to fund the growth that way if you want to maintain classroom sizes, if you want to maintain per pupil expenditure."
A proposed tax increase of four-tenths of a cent would bump the tax rate up to 76.6 cents for every $100 of assessed value and bring in an additional $600,000 for the schools. The schools' deficit would be sliced in half, but they would still be $600,000 shy of what they need.
Haun says more cuts would still need to be made but says a budget shortfall of $600,000 would be "manageable."
"We'll go through and make some cuts here and there. Our number one priority, as it always has been, is to protect class size, protect teachers and protect the instruction for students," said Haun.
At a public hearing Wednesday, supervisors heard from about a dozen people divided on the tax increase.
"Again this year, the school board is crying, 'We have a shortfall. We need more money,'" said Albemarle County resident Charlotte Hogue. "Then they make the usual claim, 'If you don't give it to us, we'll have to increase the class size and cut personnel.' This is the same old song I have heard for years."
"We cannot continue to fund and fund and fund and fund and fund without a stronger effort to make difficult cuts in difficult financial times to balance these things," said Carole Thorpe of the Jefferson Area Tea Party.
Some supporters disagree. They say the the board's financial support has had a positive impact.
"Many divisions have closed schools, laid off teachers, eliminated the arts and significantly increased class size. These actions have not happened in Albemarle County thanks to your commitment to our childrens' education," said Albemarle County School Board member Diantha McKeel.
"Our obligation to our community is to our children," said Albemarle High School teacher Tracy Aglio. "I ask you to approve the proposed tax rate to ensure our schools can continue to provide the excellent education for which our county is known."
Supervisor Duane Snow says, while supervisors agree on most of the budget, not everyone is on the same page when it comes to education.
"The schools seem to be the one dividing area we have on the board," said Snow. "But I think when it's all said and done, I think it's going to come down to the point that we give the schools what they need."
Supervisors will set the tax rate and adopt a budget on April 3.