The fully funded school budget has been the shining beacon of success on the incumbents’ campaign trail, but at the final combined budget approval by the School Board on June 7, it’s clear the truth is more complicated. The School Board unanimously approved the FY 2019 operating budget in the amount of $275.4 million.
With a city appropriation of $224.8 million, the budget also includes other financing sources and uses, as well as a planned use of general fund balance in the amount of $5.2 million and a transfer of $1.6 million to the Grants and Special Projects Fund.
“There’s constant campaign, led by parents, for fully funding the schools,” said School Board member Christopher Lewis. “This budget had two rounds of across-the-board cuts and small cuts made going to principals and department heads to close gaps. There’s a question out there of, if we’re fully funding schools, are the things we’re cutting fat or things we’re cutting to do what we’ve been doing with less money. Like the CIP, we’re getting crunched, and it’s important that folks pay attention to this budgeting process of we’re going to start to cut things more essential than what we’ve been cutting this year.”
School Board Chair Ramee Gentry said the Alexandria City Public Schools was forced to dip more heavily into its reserve funding this year.
“We were really pressed to utilize reserve fund this year in a way we have not in previous years,” said Gentry. “When proposed budgets come out at the beginning of the year, they represent what is necessary for the school system to operate. We recognize this does take contribution from community, but we ask for this because it is what is truly needed to adequately support the students.”
Superintendent of Schools Lois Berlin’s original budget proposal called for a $298.2 million operating budget. Some on the School Board said they were concerned that the cuts were going to impact the school staff and personnel.
“Personnel is so much of our budget. 86-87 percent,” said School Board member Cinty Anderson. “In order for people to get more money, as they should, as years go by: we need to get more money. Only a small percent of the budget is any wiggle room. We really need to pay our people what they deserve.”