With an estimated budget shortfall between $3.7 million and $4 million, Charlottesville City Schools are faced with one of the toughest budget seasons in recent years—one that could include layoffs and the closing of one of the district’s elementary schools.
“It’s a very serious hole we are looking at,” said Ned Michie, chair of the Charlottesville School Board.
And it could get worse. Delegate Rob Bell, who represents the 58th district that includes Albemarle County, has introduced a bill that would amend the state’s funding formula and likely open another $2.5 million hole. A cut that size would mean closing a school and laying off 30 teachers and staff.
According to City Spokesperson Ric Barrick, the school division is also considering postponing reconfiguration of Walker Upper Elementary and Buford Middle schools. Funds set aside for the design portion of the process could perhaps be redistributed. Accordingly, the division has put every option on the table, from cutting non-core services to laying off teachers. By way of an example, Michie said that cutting five classes of 3-year-old pre-school could save the schools about $500,000, but said that is money well spent.
“We really don’t want to get into a position where we have to cut the things that make us a special division,” he said.
“There is about $700,000 that would not affect our balance and that would be money that the city would suggest as a one-time tool that would help them get close to where they need to be,” said Barrick.
A 2008 efficiency study recommended closing an elementary school and reducing the number of assistant principals, a move that would save close to $1.6 million. Although it’s too early to say which school could face closure, city and school officials say they would prefer other options.
“I would like to see all the schools open unless this is a last resort and we have to,” said Mayor Satyendra Huja. “We have a value in our community and it’s to never hurt the schools.”
In addition to losing $3 million in state funds in the last couple of years, as well as $600,000 in one-time stimulus funds, legislature has changed how the state sales tax revenue is distributed to localities and, in turn, to schools. Formerly, a small percentage of the sales tax trickled down to city schools, and the amount was tied to the school age population, students ages 5 to 19. That number once included University of Virginia students. Now, the schools cannot count UVA students with permanent addresses outside of Charlottesville.
“That change alone is about $1.2 million,” said Michie.
Another big change is an increase in employee contributions to the Virginia Retirement System, which will consume another $1.8 million.
The schools will look to the city for some help closing the gap, but Barrick said the city is facing its own $1 million shortfall.
“We think we will be able to close the gap with some internal move that will not put us in any peril for the year,” he said.
City Councilor Kathy Galvin has suggested incorporating Charlottesville into Albemarle.
“If the current $4 million deficit balloons out to $6.5 million if the Bell bill passes, we will be looking at crippling cuts to our school division at a time when it has begun to reserve a decades old trend of declining enrollment,” she wrote in an e-mail to City Council and the City Manager.
Asked about reversion, Huja was direct: “That would not be my preference,” he said.