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City Council, School Board discuss budget shortfall

Recession created multi-year funding cut concerns

Charlottesville City Council met with the City School Board Wednesday to discuss numerous funding issues and the amount Council allocates to the Board.

The Board sought to discuss and initiate proposals to address the funding gap, which currently sits at $262,463, School Board Chair Juandiego Wade said.

“[T]he funding gap [for the Charlottesville School budgets] has been reduced by much throughout the past few years and used to get 30 percent more, which has been due to changes in the Virginia retirement system and legislation,” Wade said.

Earlier this month, the Council addressed the budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which saw a 1.65 percent increase from last year’s budget. Budget increases have helped to offset a decrease in state funding.

Charlottesville Vice-Mayor Kristin Szakos said the Council felt is was encroaching on School Board territory.

“The problem is the budget, and the City Council makes the decision of what the Board gets and then they decide what to do with it,” Szakos said.

Szakos said the Council’s budget, which was higher than projected tax revenue for schools in the last two years, started being most problematic when the recession hit. Additionally, Council has received a loss of federal funding in the past few years, affecting the amount given to the Board.

“The many goals we seek from the budget is to relieve unfunded mandates, increase the amount of funding for the retirement plan for teachers employed throughout Charlottesville and try to implement a new teaching style to help teachers expand the quality of their work,” Wade said.

Both the Council and the School Board have discussed tax increases to generate more funds for the Board’s budget, School Board Vice-Chair Amy Laufer said.

“The idea of whether to raise taxes has been discussed for over six months and hasn’t really reached a decision, but it still remains a proposition,” Laufer said.

Szakos said school closings were one option on the table, since Charlottesville has an excess of schools for its population.

“Walker Elementary has been discussed for a closing, but that would mean major renovations for Buford Elementary,” Szakos said.

The Council has also gathered the aid of a blue-ribbon commission, creating proposals to generate more funding for the Board. Nevertheless, the Board forms its own suggestions for funding, although its has no power to actually implement tax changes.

“[The Board] has proposed to raise the price ticket passes for [sports] games,” Wade said. “However, that isn’t popular among the city residents. One idea that has been proposed is to increase the cost of school for out-of-district students by five [to] 10 percent.”

Szakos said finding cuts, which do not affect education quality, was a difficult process.

“The Board has trimmed and cut and squeezed without sacrificing instructional quality,” Szakos said.