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Votes

Budget Cuts for Schools

School Board reduces its budget by $1.6 million.

With the city's budget season now over, the School Board has decided how it will change its budget for fiscal year 2006 to meet to the cuts that city government demanded.

"The cuts that we made were painful," said Superintendent Rebecca Perry. "This budget underwent several levels of scrutiny prior to the board's approval, and every item in the budget was needed to fulfill and enhance the mission of our school system. Many of the cuts are actually deferments and will be requested again next year."

The city's cuts to the School Board's budget came in two rounds. The first came on March 8, when the city manager suggested what he called two "technical adjustments." The biggest adjustment was $620,000 — the amount of money the city's Office of Management and Budget estimated that the schools would save from changes in personnel positions. This re-estimate included money that city budget officials calculated the schools would save from vacancies and turnover.

The city manager's March 8 budget also cut school funding by $280,000 — the amount from the General Assembly that was not available when the school system created its budget. These funds will be applied to teacher salary increases. Since March, an additional $160,000 has been made available from Virginia to Alexandria City Public Schools. This amount will be subtracted from the city's contribution to the school system.

"It seems like the relationship between the city and the School Board is changing," said School Board member Melissa Luby, noting that the amount of state funding wasn't reduced from the city's contribution to the School Board's budget in previous years. Another change Luby mentioned was the city's new proposal for an advanced budget schedule, which will force the School Board to put its budget together earlier than the current deadline. "Even in the current budget process, it's hard to estimate what the city schools will get in state aid. With the new budget process, it will be totally impossible. We will have no idea how to estimate."

The second round of cuts came after the City Council advertised a real-estate tax rate of $0.915 for every $100 of assessed value, which is 8 cents lower than the current rate. To accomplish this rate cut, the city manager proposed several cuts on April 16 — including a further reduction of $1,160,000 to the school's budget. City Manager James Hartmann suggested cutting $300,000 of new "out of classroom" positions, $700,000 of over-funding for the School's Supplemental Retirement System and factoring in the additional $160,000 that was made available to city school after Gov. Mark Warner finalized Virginia's budget for fiscal year 2006.

SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS were faced with a budget reduction of $1,620,000. After discussing potential cuts in two board meetings, a final vote was taken last week. Elected school Board members are not bound by suggestions from the city, and they exercise autonomy over their own budget. Here are the cuts that have now been adopted by the board:

* $850,000 reduction in the Supplemental Retirement System: Although the city recommended cutting this program by $700,000, School Board members voted to cut it by $850,000. This one-time reduction will not affect current retirees, but will change the growth rate of the pension fund — effectively slowing the rate at which benefits are enhanced for current and future employees.

* $175,053 reduction in the Adult Education Program: Cuts to this program were initially suggested by School Board member Mark Eaton. In a May 5 meeting of the board, Eaton told board members "I'm not unsympathetic to someone who wants to get a GED, but this isn't the Adult Education Board. It's the School Board." Members voted to eliminate one part-time position and one full-time position, close a day program at Ramsay Recreation Center, reduce salary and benefits for evening high school continuation counseling and scale back night classes at Hammond Middle School and Ramsay Elementary School.

* $150,000 reduction in copier improvements: The school system has a plan to put new copiers in some schools and upgrade copiers in others: Every school will have its copier capabilities increased by 2006. But the upgrades will not all be made at once, which was the original plan.

* $122,776 postponement in buying new math textbooks: Schools will get new math textbooks for grades Kindergarten, one and two as scheduled, but grades three, four and five will receive new textbooks in the next budget cycle. The original plan was to buy all the new math textbooks at the same time.

* $122,000 elimination in the school's business continuity plan: The money that would have gone to create a "hot site," which electronically stores backup information in case of an emergency, will be saved because the city government offered to let the schools use part of its hot site.

* $110,225 postponement in several positions: The School Board plans to request money for these positions in the next budget cycle: clerical support at Samuel Tucker Elementary, a support specialist in the mail copy room and an Individualized Student Alternative Education Program paraprofessional.

* $70,000 postponement in a textbook bar-coding initiative: The School Board wants to use a bar-coding system with textbooks to increase control and accountability of the textbook inventory for the city. Board members plan to this in the budget again in the next cycle.

* $20,000 reduction in salary and benefits for an intersession coordinator: The school system offers enrichment and remedial education between school sessions for students on a modified school calendar. The coordinator position was created to organize intersession classes. School Board members have now reduced the pay that will be offered to candidates for this position.