Letter to the Editor: Budget in Alexandria City Council’s Hands

Letter to the Editor: Budget in Alexandria City Council’s Hands

On Feb. 21, I presented City Council and the public with proposed city operating and capital budgets for the fiscal year beginning July 1, and a proposed capital improvement program (CIP) for the next decade. I share City Council’s commitment to partner with the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) to ensure high-quality public education for Alexandria’s students. A full 30 percent of the proposed city operating budget is a direct transfer to ACPS.

My proposed operating budget included 99 percent of the funding requested by the superintendent and School Board, which is an increase of $7.5 million over the current year. This would be a 3.6 percent increase, which is a much higher rate of new spending for schools than the 1 percent increase I proposed for city government services. Under state law, neither I nor City Council can direct how school funds are to be spent or not spent once transferred to ACPS. It is up to the School Board to determine the most appropriate combination of funding for instructional needs, staff compensation, supplies, maintenance, and other operating expenses.

ACPS also asked the city to nearly triple the city’s planned school capital funding between the current 10-year CIP and the coming year's update — from $229 million to $611 million — to build, replace, or modernize a third of all ACPS schools within just 10 years. While these are important projects, it would be unprecedented for the city to suddenly provide such a large increase in funding to take on such an ambitious capital effort. Still, my proposed CIP would increase school capital funding by $144 million or 63 percent over the current CIP, to $373 million. This is the largest dollar increase ever proposed for ACPS capital needs by any city manager.

In many states, school boards have the authority to levy property taxes to independently fund their operating and capital needs. However, Virginia law and Alexandria's charter require the city manager to propose and City Council to adopt tax rates, fees, and spending plans that balance school needs with other core responsibilities like public safety, human services, and infrastructure investments. Simply put, there was not enough money at the tax rate I recommended to fund all needs on either the school or municipal side.

At this stage in the process, the budget is in City Council’s hands. The public is invited to provide input to City Council at a special hearing on March 13. More information about the budget and associated public meetings is available at www.alexandriava.gov/Budget.

Mark B. Jinks

City Manager