Albemarle School Board discusses construction project funds | Education

Days after the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors adopted a budget, the School Board discussed a request to amend its capital improvement program.

The supervisors’ adopted CIP allocated $47.1 million for school construction projects, including $11.5 million for unspecified school projects.

Division staff members are recommending that the $47.1 million be broken up across six projects, including $27 million for a second high school center and $12.1 million to renovate and expand Scottsville Elementary. Design work already is underway for the Scottsville project, which includes a bigger gym and more classrooms.

The other four projects would be: starting design work on a Crozet Elementary addition; adding a gym and renovating Red Hill Elementary; purchasing furniture for second-grade classrooms; and planning for changes at Albemarle and Western Albemarle High schools.

The recommendations were discussed Thursday during a budget work session. School Board members also heard a recommendation for how to close a $665,000 budget deficit in the fiscal year 2020 funding request.

Increases in local revenues and an additional $151,388 from the fund balance will help to cover the deficit and give teachers a 3% raise. The funding request already uses $1,024,735 of the division’s fund balance.

“We wouldn’t recommend this if we didn’t have a substantial [fund balance],” said Rosalyn Schmitt, the division’s chief operating officer.

The most substantial change to the budget is the elimination of a $1 million line item for compensation strategies. The money would have been used to boost staff pay to reflect the most recent market changes and to adjust salaries for hard-to-fill classified positions.

The teacher raises, a 0.7 percentage point increase from the funding request, will cost $623,081. According to the presentation, the market for teacher salaries has shifted upward in recent months in response to Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposal to provide matching funds for divisions that boost salaries by 5%.

School Board members didn’t vote on either recommendation during the work session. The board is slated to adopt a balanced budget at its meeting April 25.

David Oberg, who represents the White Hall District, said he was concerned about the Crozet project moving down the list. The addition is intended to help with the capacity issues in the division’s western feeder pattern.

“We debated this heavily,” Schmitt said.

If the design and construction funding are approved in the upcoming fiscal years, the Crozet addition would be ready by August 2022 at the earliest.

“I’m not sure we could get it done any quicker even if we had the money [next fiscal year],” Schmitt said.

Oberg stressed that he didn’t want to see the project fall farther down the list.

“[The supervisors] need to know that Crozet has got to be done,” he said.

The second high school center would be smaller than originally proposed, down from 600 to 400 students.

Schmitt said the growing enrollment at the first center, as well as lower than projected enrollment at the area high schools, would make a smaller second center doable.

Katrina Callsen, who represents the Rio District, said she wanted more clarity on the division’s plans for the second center.

“It’s a noble goal,” she said of redesigning the center. “But what I’m seeing in front of me is a whole bunch of things that I know we absolutely need that we can’t fund because we are pursuing something that I don’t have answers to the questions I have.”

Callsen wasn’t on the board when it voted to support the center model in December 2017.

The division is piloting its first center with 21 students at a leased facility inside Seminole Place. Enrollment at the center is expected to grow to 60 students next year.

“That was smart to really stick our toe in the water,” schools Superintendent Matt Haas said of the pilot.

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