Alexandria schools take lion’s share of planned tax rate increase, but it’s still less than School Board hoped

The first day at school at George Mason Elementary School, August 21, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) is the biggest winner of a 2.5 cent tax rate increase being considered by City Council, but it still falls short of the budget voted on by the School Board.

The School Board voted earlier this year to request $384.4 million from the City Council — $21 million more than previous budgets and double the budget proposed by Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt. Mayor Justin Wilson previously said that fulfilling that budget request would require an unprecedented 6-cent tax increase.

Of the roughly $11 million the city would gain from a 2.5 cent increase, the current Add Delete being considered by the City Council would send $8.7 million to ACPS — $4.7 million for capital contributions and $4 million for the operating budget. The additional funding to ACPS comprises 2 cents of the 2.5 cent increase.

The next most expensive projects being considered are $3 million for affordable housing projects and $3 million in contingency funding for mental health staffing.

According to a budget request submitted by City Council member Alyia Gaskins:

Fully funding the School Board Approved FY 2025 – FY 2034 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) funding request would require the addition of $65 million for George Mason Elementary Hard Costs, Cora Kelly Elementary Soft Costs, and Cora Kelly Elementary Hard Costs. Budget memo #53 outlines that it would be possible to use a mixture of additional borrowing and pay-as-you-go cash capital to alleviate some of the longer-term cost burdens of borrowing. This $4.7 million is then intended to be used to increase cash capital to the Schools capital program and mitigate the amount of borrowing required for the additional $65.0 million.

Mayor Justin Wilson said there’s still uncertainty about how much ACPS will receive from the state budget.

The relationship between the City Council and the School Board has historically been tense, especially when it comes to budget discussions, and there was some reticence from the Council to hand over the majority of the tax rate increase to ACPS.

“Not to say that they don’t need it, but there’s need on the city side as well,” said City Council member Canek Aguirre. “There’s a lot of need on the city side we’re not addressing unless we kick it down the road to next year.”

Gaskins said she recognized that the funding to ACPS was a big ask, but that it’s one that’s desperately needed.

“I in no way deny that these are not significant increases,” Gaskins said, “but I think they’re trying two very important sides of what ACPS is dealing with on the capital and operating side.”

Budget adoption is scheduled for Wednesday, May 1.