Alexandria City Public Schools is entering a tricky budget season.
As student enrollment and expenditure increases outpace revenue, ACPS faces a $12 million deficit in the run up to the fiscal year 2024 budget, according to a budget presentation to the School Board on Thursday, September 22.
“Over the previous decade, student enrollment and expenditures have increased at a far quicker pace than the corresponding revenue has grown,” ACPS said in a staff report. “ACPS Staff analysis shows that this trend will continue into the future, requiring a combination of revenue enhancements and expenditure reductions to balance a projected budget gap.”
For FY 2024, the projected budget deficit is $12.05 million. Each year, as expenditures outpace revenues, the estimated budget gap will continue to expand. By FY 2028, the annual funding deficit projection grows to $37.83 million, according to ACPS.
Still, the school system is proposing a 2.64% step increase and 2.5% market rate adjustment for all staff. Healthcare costs are projected to increase 8% and dental care costs will increase 2%.
“We assume that we’ll get the same per-people dollar amount at both the state and city level (as approved the FY 2023 budget),” ACPS Chief Financial Officer Dominic Turner told the School Board.
There are 15,700 students at ACPS at this time, according to interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt. That’s about 100 students more than was forecasted in January, and some parents are concerned that elementary school class sizes are getting too big. Last spring, the school system adjusted the caps on elementary school class sizes by an increase of two seats so that kindergarten classes now have 24 students, first and second grades are capped at 26, and grades three to five have 28 students — still below maximum state standards.
Jenica Patterson, the PTA president at Patrick Henry Elementary School, told the School Board that the school is contending with 950 students — about 65 more than what was projected.
“The discrepancy in teacher-to-student ratios among ACPS elementary schools is a major barrier to learning.,” Patterson said. “Teachers are simply managing the large, crowded classrooms instead of dedicating their time to education and learning.”
Kay-Wyatt said that the community has grown over the years, and that ACPS is experiencing a teacher and bus driver shortage.
“It’s very hard right now,” Kay-Wyatt said. “The HR staff is out recruiting, they continue their recruitment efforts. I also want that to be known that we never stop recruiting, and we still have a shortage.”
Next month there will be several budget-related work sessions and meetings:
Local school systems face bus driver shortages, but say they’re ready to roll — “ACPS recognizes there is a national shortage of school bus drivers, making it challenging to recruit and fill bus driver positions. ACPS has about 90% of our drivers available and 100% of bus monitor positions filled…” [Alexandria Living]
Alexandria recommends cooling centers during heatwave — “The next few days are going to be hot and humid. The City offers several locations as options to those without cooling in their homes, including rec centers and libraries, as well as assistance for adults 60+ and some low-income households. Learn more at alexandriava.gov/122602.” [Twitter]
Mayor conducting town hall meeting on the run — “This Thursday night I am bringing back my ‘Running Town Hall!’ Lace up your running shoes and meet us at Pacers Running at 1301 King Street at 7 PM. We’ll run and discuss the issues facing our City. See you there!” [Facebook]
Virginia liquor store sales hit record — “The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority reported revenue of $1.4 billion during the 2021 fiscal year that ended June 30, an increase of $163 million from the previous year, the Virginia ABC announced Tuesday.” [Patch]
Anticipating fall, Visit Alexandria releases deets for events thru November — “Visit Alexandria, the city’s tourism bureau, has released details for local events into November. Take a look. There are plenty of things to do.” [Zebra]
Today’s weather — “Sunny, along with a few afternoon clouds. Hot and humid. High around 95F. Winds SE at 5 to 10 mph… Partly cloudy. Low 74F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]
New job: Server at Chadwicks — “Chadwicks Restaurant is currently looking to fill FULL- and PART-TIME server positions. Must be honest, hardworking, and capable of working well with others. Experience not a priority. We currently have more business than we can handle! Following a brief training regimen, you may pick up as many hours as you can handle. Start making very competitive server pay ASAP!” [Indeed]
‘Ghost kitchen’ could be headed to Alexandria — “Commercial kitchens like the one proposed are also known as ghost kitchens and they allow restaurants and food entrepreneurs to prepare delivery orders. Ghost kitchens grew in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic when many traditional restaurants were forced to close and the demand for take-out increased.” [Alexandria Living]
Face masks required at public and private schools until July 25 — “To address potential gaps in critical prevention measures at schools this summer, the State Health Commissioner, Dr. Norm Oliver, issued a Public Health Emergency Order effective July 1, requiring children and adults aged 5 and older to wear masks in public and private K-12 schools through July 25. The requirement applies to individuals regardless of vaccination status. The mask order also applies on school buses. Individuals are not required to wear masks when outside on school property, however the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) recommends that unvaccinated individuals aged two and older wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings.” [City of Alexandria]
Del Ray featured in movie — “A new movie that recently premiered at the Brooklyn Film Festival filmed several scenes at local businesses in Del Ray. Kringle Time, a satirical comedy film about a singing snowman ‘that has nothing to do with Christmas,”‘was written and directed by Matthew Lucas, a former American University student and Arlington resident.” [Zebra]
City Council to vote on replacement services for SRO funding Tuesday — “City Council on Tuesday evening will consider how to spend the nearly $800,000 that used to fund the School Resource Officer program.” [Alexandria Living]
Today’s weather — “Sunshine and some clouds [during the day]. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 96F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph… A few clouds [in the evening]. Low 73F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]
New job: Assistant teacher — “The Campagna Early Learning Center Assistant Teacher is responsible for assisting the Teacher in planning and implementing age-appropriate curriculum for the children in the classroom in accordance with the program policies, guidelines and philosophy.” [Indeed]
Alexandria City Public Schools will reopen its doors to students on March 16, after being shut down for a little more than a year due to the coronavirus, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. told the School Board on Thursday.
“Now it’s time, and we will be returning back to our school buildings,” Hutchings said. “We are now ready. It is now time for this pivot to occur.”
The students who opted to participate (about half of students) in hybrid learning will be able to go back to school on March 16. On March 2, the school system will allow back special needs students in kindergarten – fifth grade. They will be followed by special education students in grades 6-12 on Tuesday, March 9.
“The reality is that we really don’t know how long COVID is going to continue to affect our community,” said School Board Member Michelle Rief. “This is gonna be a big transition and it may it may be a little bumpy, but my hope is that we’ll work together to get through this challenge, and just remain flexible, too, because we really don’t know what the future is gonna hold.”
The news comes as Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is calling on school systems across the Commonwealth to open for some form of in-person learning by March 15.
Hutchings said that coronavirus community transmission levels have been downgraded to a sufficient level by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health. The planned reopening of school has been pushed back numerous times this year due to staffing shortages and increased community transmission numbers.
“We are seeing a consistent decline in our community health measurements, which is huge,” Hutchings said. “This is a big deal. This is why we are now at the point where we are looking forward to our transition over the next six weeks.”
At T.C. Williams High School, which is the largest public high school in Virginia, Principal Peter Balas is working out how students will transition between classes. Students will be required to have their temperatures taken, socially distance and wear face masks.
“One of the things that we are carefully planning around is that transition from class to class,” Balas said. “That’s definitely still in the planning phase.”
Many parents were relieved to get the news.
“I’m excited that ACPS has gotten to the point of a firm date,” an ACPS parent told ALXnow. “After a year of uncertainty, any sort of clear forward momentum feels good. I hope they follow the data and apply this new decisive and determined approach toward an on time in person opening for the 2021-2022 school year as well.”
But some parents have caused a bit of a controversy in recent days. The Facebook Group Open ACPS! recently published information it acquired through the Freedom of Information Act on staffing levels at schools. The posts, which have been removed, included emails on ACPS classroom sizes, and included employee identification numbers that were not redacted.
Hutchings has repeatedly said that staffing resources have been strained because of the pandemic and that the school system will need to hire additional employees to accommodate in-person learning.
“It’s unfortunate that that occurred,” Hutchings said. “It was just a disruption, and was really a breach of trust, which I personally don’t take lightly at all.”
The group responded that it was not at fault when ACPS released the information.
“The board and superintendent didn’t own up that the mistake was on their side,” Open ACPS told ALXnow. “ACPS gave this information to a parent through Freedom of Information Act. ACPS failed to remove any sensitive information. Yet a parent was chastised for ACPS’ mistake.”
The timeline will have all K-12 hybrid students returning by March 16th. pic.twitter.com/eLgD8xzECc
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) February 5, 2021
Photo via ACPS/Facebook
Seminary Road Saga Continues — Despite suggestions “that the Alexandria Fire Department had significant input into the Complete Streets Design Guidelines and whether to narrow Seminary Road, documents obtained by city residents under the Freedom of Information Act reveal this was not the case.” [Alexandria Times]
Sushi Restaurant Coming to ‘West Alex’ — “Sushi Jin Next Door, which opened its first restaurant in Silver Spring in 2006 and now has a second location in Woodbridge, is opening a third location in Alexandria, Virginia. The new location will be part of the West Alex mixed-use development at King Street and North Beauregard Street.” [WTOP]
New Glass Recycling Bin Now Open — “Alexandria residents wanting to recycle glass now have a fifth bin as an option. MOM’s Organic Market at 3831 Mt. Vernon Avenue is the location of the new purple recycling bin. The city ended curbside glass recycling on Jan. 15, citing increasing recycling costs and the lack of glass-sorting facilities in the region.” [Patch]
ACPS To Buy Five Electric School Buses — “Under the terms of the grant, Dominion Energy will pay the additional costs towards each of the five buses that ACPS was already scheduled to buy this summer, allowing ACPS to upgrade them to electric vehicles. The goal is to have the new electric buses on the roads in time for the start of the 2020-21 school year in September.” [ACPS]
Alexandria is one of more than a dozen localities in Virginia — including Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William counties — that will be receiving electric school buses by the end of 2020, Dominion Energy announced today.
The first phase of a project to replace diesel-powered buses entirely will start with distributing a total of 50 electric school buses to 16 school divisions spread out across the state. It’s unclear how many buses Alexandria will receive.
Dominion said the locations were selected based on the benefit the bus batteries would bring to the electric grid. Per a press release:
The electric school buses will serve as a grid resource by creating additional energy storage technology to support the company’s integration of distributed renewables such as solar and wind. The “vehicle-to-grid” technology leverages the bus batteries to store and inject energy onto the grid during periods of high demand when the buses are not needed for transport. The buses also provide environmental and health benefits through reduced emissions and reduce operation and maintenance costs for schools by up to 60 percent.
The press release noted that Thomas Built Buses, a North Carolina-based company that specializes in building school buses, was chosen as the vendor for the first phase of the project.
The second phase of the project would, with state approval, expand the program to 1,000 additional buses by 2025. Phase three would replace 50 percent of all diesel buses by 2025 and 100 percent by 2030.
Photo via Thomas Built Buses/Facebook