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Mayor says fully funding ACPS budget request could mean ‘significant tax increase’ or reduction in city services

Students get on school buses at Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard Campus prompted an evacuation and early dismissal, Dec. 10, 2021. (staff photo by James Cullum)

The Alexandria School Board approved its fiscal year 2025 $384.4 million combined funds budget on Thursday night and it is asking City Council for $21 million more than the previous budget. If it goes forward, Mayor Justin Wilson says that the request could mean a reduction in city services.

School Board Members tacked on more than $10 million in additions to Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt’s proposed budget, a move that prompted Board Members Meagan Alderton and Chris Harris to vote in opposition to it.

Alderton said that the budget is difficult for the Board to defend.

“For our add/delete session, the board essentially doubled the superintendent’s proposed increase, shifting our ask to an 8.1% city appropriation,” she said at the Board meeting. “City appropriations for the operating budget are not one-time asks when you’re asking for an additional appropriation in any fiscal year. You’re also asking for a promise that this level of funding can be sustained every fiscal year thereafter. So, an additional $10 million dollar promise is one thing, but the additional $21 million promise changes the game entirely.”

City Manager Jim Parajon’s draft FY 2025 budget will be unveiled next Tuesday.

Wilson said that he has not yet reviewed the ACPS budget, but said that the city must be clear about the details of this year’s budget process.

“The School Board’s recent budget decisions more than doubled the superintendent’s request for additional City appropriation, without any offsetting spending reductions in other areas of the budget,” Wilson said. “Funding that increase will require deep spending reductions to other critical services (public safety, human services, transportation or infrastructure), significant tax increases, or both. I look forward to dialogue with the School Board about the details of their request, and the options available for the two bodies as we begin our budget process next week.”

School Board Chair Michelle Rief said that the budget underscores the Board’s commitment to students and staff.

“This budget is a testament to our collective vision for growing a thriving educational community that supports staff and prepares our students for the future,” Rief said.

Wilson said that in the fall, City staff was projecting that Alexandria’s real estate tax base would increase 2.4%, which would have resulted in a $20 million budget shortfall if the School Board had approved what the Superintendent’s budget proposal included. But instead, the real estate tax base grew by 0.33%, the smallest rate of increase in 15 years.

“So, that gap of $20 million is in fact, much larger,” Wilson said.

Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt thanked the Board for their approval, and said that her proposed budget focuses on retention, with a full step increase and a 2% market rate adjustment for eligible staff. The school system is experiencing a staffing crisis, and the budget increases bus driver salaries to $24 an hour for new drivers and more than $47 per hour for senior drivers with more than a decade experience with the school system.

“I truly value the collaboration between the division and the Alexandria City School Board, and would like to thank them for their approval of the FY 2025 Combined Funds budget,” Kay-Wyatt said in a statement. “I also want to express my appreciation for our dedicated Financial Services team for continuing to work to find innovative solutions to the complex budget challenges the division faces. Together we will continue to advocate and work to produce a budget that best supports our students and staff until it is fully adopted in the spring.”

City Council Member John Taylor Chapman said that he wants to see how the Board has prioritized its allocations.

“Conversation is key for our school system, and getting good teachers,” Chapman said. “Past School Boards have been able to turn in a budget that is able to compete with getting good school teachers, balancing priorities and understanding the greater stake in the city’s financial picture. I would assume that is happening this year as well.”

Additions to the budget include:

  • $4.2 million for staffers who did not get step increases in fiscal year 2021 (sponsored by Member Abdel Elnoubi)
  • $307,000 for two deans of students at George Washington and Francis C. Hammond Middle Schools (sponsored by Tammy Ignacio)
  • $125,000 for a college and career counselor at ACHS (sponsored by Member Jacinta Greene)
  • $125,000 for a psychologist at ACHS Minnie Howard Campus (sponsored by Member Abdel Elnoubi)
  • $115,000 for an athletic trainer at ACHS (sponsored by Member Chris Harris)
  • $65,000 for a Dari/Pashto/English fluent-speaking family liaison (sponsored by Harris)

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