Education Beat: Delegate seeks shift in state funding for schools

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Jackson-Via students respond to questions asked by a representative from the Museum of Frontier Culture. Photo: Tim Shea Jackson-Via students respond to questions asked by a representative from the Museum of Frontier Culture. Photo: Tim Shea

Legislation to change the state funding formula for Charlottesville and Albemarle’s education budgets has been introduced again before the General Assembly in Richmond. The proposed budget amendment, known as the “Bell Amendment” and named after its patron, local Republican Delegate Rob Bell, would take the two communities’ 1982 revenue sharing agreement into account when calculating each locality’s ability to pay for schools. At stake is about $3 million per year that would be taken from schools in Charlottesville and handed to Albemarle County.

Adopted in 1982, the revenue sharing agreement is a contract between the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County that prohibits Charlottesville from annexing parts of Albemarle in exchange for yearly payments from the County to the City. Albemarle officials believe the state should take into account the fact that it paid the city almost $17 million last year. The state’s funding formula for public schools is blind to that transfer, thus the county appears to have more revenues and the city less. But Charlottesville argues that the County is going behind a contractual agreement.

To prevent its adoption, Charlottesville City Schools has hired Anne Leigh Kerr of Richmond-based law firm Troutman Sanders to lobby the General Assembly. Kerr said the first phase of her work is to speak with the House Appropriations Subcommittee.

Albemarle School Board questions hiring

During a budget work session last week, some members of the Albemarle County School Board expressed concern over the division’s hiring of highly paid new staff.

Board members Jason Buyaki, Pam Moynihan, and Eric Strucko asked if the division could place more emphasis on hiring employees at lower levels within pay scales. Director of Human Resources Lorna Gerome said that the division does start classified employees at the minimum salary if he or she meets the minimum job requirements, but that the division is frequently able to hire more experienced candidates.

For teachers, Superintendent Pam Moran said salary depends on education levels and experience. Currently, the division budgets teachers at six years of experience and a Master’s Degree, but Moran said that is an average used for budgeting purposes, and that new hires may come in at more or less than the $68,581 figure used.

The proposed budget includes funding for 14.9 new full-time employees: 11.4 to account for enrollment growth; two teachers to continue an elementary world language pilot program; the restoration of one professional development coordinator; and a part-time media studies instructor.

The Board will hold a public hearing on the budget on Thursday, January 30 at the County Office Building on McIntire Road.

Agnor-Hurt addition to begin this summer

The Albemarle County School Board last week approved final design plans for an addition at Agnor-Hurt Elementary School. The project will add 132 seats, increasing the school’s capacity to 598.

The work will be divided into two portions: a core instruction pavilion at the rear of the school and an art pavilion and modifications made to the main office at the front of the building. The approximately 8,000-square-foot core instruction pavilion adds space for six new classrooms and features cutting-edge design elements, like flexible learning spaces for instruction. The nearly 3,500-square-foot art pavilion will feature natural daylighting and will connect to the cafeteria. The administrative addition will create a secure entrance to the building. Bus traffic will be rerouted to enter the school from Woodburn Drive, and about 30 parking spots will be added.

Board members Steve Koleszar and Eric Strucko were worried that the addition didn’t add six more traditional classrooms, but Superintendent Pam Moran said the learning spaces in the design will “absolutely address the capacity issues.”

Construction is slated to begin this summer, and the construction is expected to be complete for the start of the 2015-16 school year.

Our Education Beat coverage appears thanks to a partnership with Charlottesville Tomorrow

 

  • democracy

    Rob Bell is at it again, trying to play Robin Hood in reverse.

    First and foremost, if the county schools want more money, they know where they should get it: from the county Board of Supervisors. The county has the money, but its political “leaders” just don’t want to pony it up.

    Second, the city-county revenue-sharing agreement is a legal contract that was worked out through “cooperation and compromise.” The agreement was approved unanimously by county supervisors, and by SIXTY percent of county voters.

    Third, the county wants the funds it gives the city to count as part of the city’s “wealth” for Composite Index purposes. As an analogy, the federal tax system does not count child support money as “income” for the recipient, nor can the payer of child support deduct it from his income. Nor should the state count the revenue-sharing money. Yes, the city spends more per pupil than the county. But more than 54 percent of students in the city qualify for free and reduced-price lunch (a measure of poverty), two-and-a-half times the rate in the county.

    Fourth, the revenue-sharing funds, reached through “cooperation and compromise” and approved through the democratic process, are a product of fair negotiation. In all of the other states, the city would, in fact , draw support from the county. There are those who contend the funds are a “subsidy.” But a better example of a subsidy is the county’s land use tax program for the county’s biggest (and wealthiest) landowners.

    Sixty percent of all land parcels in the county get tax subsidies, yet agricultural and agriculture-related production make up a small sliver of the county’s economic activity. Agricultural and agriculture-related jobs are sparse. That can mean only one thing: the land use tax subsidy is not about agriculture, it’s an out-and-out subsidy to the biggest – and mostly wealthiest – landowners. For example, one small 1.84 acre parcel near was recently assessed at more than $65,000 an acre (for the land only). But a nearby 21-acre home estate was assessed at only $11,000 an acre (for the land). Why does the little guy pay six times as much?

    The Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission’s (JLARC) landmark report on the funding of pubic schools in Virginia found that local leaders “may be…unwilling to pay for public services and may opt for low taxes … “a locality may choose to implement land use policies that…reduce the amount of revenue that is derived.”

    That is exactly what the county has done.

    Maybe county “leaders” – and Rob Bell – should make some tough decisions on how to gain extra revenues for schools, and stop picking on the city.

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