Special Report: Exploring Albemarle County Schools budget bloat and obfuscation

| April 7, 2014 | 3 Comments

Special Report

Following is a special report by authors: Brett Darken, Dr. Phil Dunkl, Keith Nicoletti, and Andre Slonopas.

Listed below are some areas identified within the ACPS budget we believe need further vetting. We present these issues as representative of and to inform our BOS how the ACPS system is funding current and future programs. There are additional areas not cited below due to additional and necessary analysis requirements. Further, in light of the short time constraints of our near term County budget decision making timeline, we are providing the below listed items as representation of a very complicated budget and to compel additional scrutiny and adjudication. In short, ACPS proposed budget increases need to be weighed against these representative discoveries of which should also necessitate additional budget scrutiny by our School Board, County Government and elected officials.

 

1. Issue: Lapse Factor Increase

Discussion: In discussion with the School Administration, it appears this program is featured as a “savings program” for unanticipated retirements, layoffs and/or new hires for Albemarle County Public School (ACPS) employees annually (in essence a turnover rate). The administration stated the annual turnover rate on average equated to 2% or approximately 50 people of which they stated “saved [the ACPS Administration] in salaries …$2 million”). The Administration stated this savings account was raided and used for “funding to help close deficits in future years.” Further, ACPS stated this year the turnover rate “sharply declined, by 75%” thereby netting a “savings” of only $500K of which they are also predicting next year and as such lowered their lapse factor account to $500K as well. In other words, they expect the same amount of ACPS employees next year as this year and they will net a savings account of $500K vice $2 Million).  Additionally, unless specifically asked, none of this information is known nor does the school budget cite or indicate a generic trend in predicting these retirements, replacements and new staff being hired over the course of the last few years thereby, the $1.5M request appears to stand alone in any predictive analysis.

Recommendation: Request the School Board to intervene with School Officials and provide analytics of where the $2 Million savings account money was applied towards each year for the last 3 years to identify the true expenses of the saved funds…lack of doing so should be subject to funding elimination

 

2. Issue: Principal and Assistant Principal Staffing

Discussion:  We compared state staffing standards with current and proposed Albemarle County Public School staffing.  Staffing standards are based on school enrollments.  Current ACPS staffing exceeds state standards at the elementary school level for Principals and at all levels for Assistant Principals.  Although 5 of the 16 elementary schools do not meet the enrollment threshold of 300 students for a full-time Principal, all 5 are staffed with a full-time Principal.

Current Assistant Principal staffing at the elementary level significantly exceeds state staffing standards.  Only 3 schools meet the enrollment threshold of 600 students for a half-time Assistant Principal, none reach the threshold of 900 students for a full-time Assistant Principal but currently 8 elementary schools are staffed with a full time Assistant Principal.  The middle and high schools also do not meet enrollment thresholds for the current level of staffing for Assistant Principals.  (See the table below.)

Excess staffing for Assistant Principals adds over $1 million in salary costs (based on average salary of $84,492 for FY13).  Furthermore, although Assistant Principal staffing currently exceeds state standards funds are being requested for two paid Assistant Principals at a cost of $118,753 for FY15.

Assistant Principal Staffing

State Staffing Standard

Current ACPS Staffing

Requested for FY15 A.P. Interns*

Elementary Schools 3 Half-time 8 Full-time 1 Full-time
Middle Schools 2 Full-time 5 Full-time 1 Full-time
High Schools 5 Full-time 9.6  Full-time
* There are no state staffing standards for Assistant Principal Interns.  Funding in the amount of $118,753 for salaries for these interns is being requested.


Recommendation:
Request the School Board to conduct a thorough review with senior ACPS officials to determine the criteria, rationale and justification for exceeding State standards particularly in very small schools and especially for two paid interns when ACPS already exceeds state staffing standards for Assistant Principals. Lack of doing so should be subject to funding elimination

 

3. Issue: Community Education Fund

Discussion: While expenditures are displayed for FY11/12 and FY12/13, it appears this program was not locally funded until FY12/13. ACPS is requesting a $1.85M in this year’s ACPS budget in local funding for the program and an increase of funding of 9.38 percent from last year. Community Education Fund mission is listed to provide “quality attention, thoughtful guidance, authentic experiences and engaging activities to enhance and expand the learning of Albemarle County students in an extended-day learning program in in support of the Division’s strategic plan. The Community Education Fund is responsible for the following major programs and/or services:

  • After-school Enrichment Program,
  • Student holiday/Spring Break Programs; and,
  • Inclement Weather Program.”

No explanation of what constitutes After-school Enrichment, Student holiday, Spring Break or Inclement Weather programs/services. Immediately following and under the “Major Initiatives and Realignment/Reduction of Resources in the Two Previous Budget Cycles” heading, ACPS states, “In an effort to engage and challenge our students, we maintain a focus on utilizing the Framework for Quality Learning (FQL) and 21st century skills in the creation and implementation of quality enrichment programs. The Smart Campaign remains at the core of EDEP learning opportunities, with an ongoing focus on what it means to have a rich, full life. Programs participate in county-wide units and regional events in addition to maintaining individual school autonomy, which allows the staff to share their individual interests as well as encourage students to explore personal interests.”

ACPS lists staff development programs (STEAM and equity and diversity offerings) are included in this program initiative (full week EDEP teacher training and orientation as well as other ongoing professional development opportunities)
Other information listed states, “alignment with the County of Albemarle Department of Finance, a 3% convenience fee is applied to all credit and debit card payments. Also, online payment is now available.

The full-time Site Facilitator positions were increased to five (5) by the addition of another dual-school position (3 total) in addition to the Cale and Brownsville full-time facilitator positions. This adjustment remains critical to our efforts to implement concept-centered units and instruction in a substantive manner.”

It is not entirely clear as to what the total purpose of this program is aligned for nor is it clear to how many students this project supports and at what cost per student.

Recommendation: Request the School Board to intervene with School Officials and provide specific program subjects, schedule and number of students supported/per student cost accordingly…lack of doing so should be subject to funding elimination

 

4. Issue: Open Doors Fund

Discussion: The Open Doors fund is depicted in the budget as a program to “provide continuing education for approximately 3000 community participants through a diverse range of tuition courses offered throughout the year…foster[ing] lifelong learning skills.” Discussions with ACPS revealed the program is an adult education program (stated for ages 18-99 years old on some of the programs listed on its website). An audit of the programs listed reveal “Basic Beekeeping,” “Artistic Use of Garden Plants” and “Spice Up Your Summer Grilling” APCS states the costs are “fully paid by tuition fees from those who participate,” and thus the $114,200 requested for FY 14/15 and $96,857 spent in last year’s School budget will be and were respectively gained via class fees only.

Recommendation:  This program is clearly out of the realm of Age 5-18 Public Education curriculum requirements and while ACPS states the program is fully paid for by those who choose to participate, programs such as these serve only to the needs of 18-99 year old residents. This funding item and program requirements should be moved out of the K-12 public education budget and administration control thereby mitigating additional distractions to the sole purpose and increased focus towards maximizing K-12 instruction.

 

5. Issue: Virginia Department of Education 2012-2013 Salary Survey 

Discussion: The Virginia Department of Education (VDE) published its annual report reflecting salary survey results for all Virginia Principals, Assistant Principals and Teachers. VDE reported Albemarle County Public School (ACPS) Principals, Assistant Principals and Teachers received salary/budget increases of 5.44%, 9.75% and 7.03% respectively over the 2012 actual average salaries. ACPS and the requisite average salaries are ranked by VDE as the 8th, 4th and 5th highest average salaries in all of Virginia’s 98 Counties. The typical counties exceeding Albemarle are Fairfax, Arlington, Loudon and Prince William with significantly larger school districts. Interestingly and as a side note, Fairfax County School Superintendent (Karen Garza) proposed last month to reduce school administration staff by 731 positions to help increase county teachers salaries.

Virginia Department of Education 2012-2013 Salary Survey

FY 2012 Actual Average Salary

FY 2013 Budgeted Average Salary

FY 2012-2013 % Increase/(Decrease)

Albemarle County Ranking among all 98 Virginia Counties

ACPS Principals

$95,344

$100,527

5.44%

#8

ACPS Asst Principals

$77,889

$85,480

9.75%

#4

Teachers (Includes Librarians and Guidance Counselors)

$50,959

$54,543

7.03%

#5

Finally, VDE reported ACPS FY 2012-2013 starting teacher salaries of $42,701 (Bachelor’s), $44,816 (Master’s) and $46, 930 (Doctorate) and ranking Albemarle County respective starting teacher salary scale as #5, #8, #5 in highest paid starting salaries among all 98 counties in Virginia (this does not include teacher aides, guidance counselors or librarians) . As a side note, the ACPS Superintendent’s current salary is $195,310 as reflected in the proposed budget with a requested 2% increase netting a projected salary of $199,216 and benefits package of $51,487 totaling $250,703. This salary appears quite exorbitant amidst a smaller scale school system and very tough economy today.

Recommendation:  Confirm statistics with the Virginia Department of Education via current staff and ACPS School Board resources. Continue to competitively pay our teachers but reduce the level of school administration. Further recommend contacting the Fairfax County Superintendent’s office for coordination purposes and discovery as to how she conducted her staff reduction determinations in order to best proceed for ACPS.

Overall Recommendation:

As stated initially, we present these issues as representative of and to inform our BOS how the ACPS system is funding current and future programs. Given the time constraints of sifting through an annual budget of a very sizable proportion in approximately 30 days conducted by less than a handful of us as an additional duty can only yield so much. Other areas of concern were identified but need additional analysis to best determine any funding disparities, etc. Further, given some of the concerns presented as only representational of the current budget proposal, we strongly recommend an audit of the ACPS system this coming year and recommend conducting an audit every 5 years to maintain accuracy and overall ACPS efficiencies and public school education effectiveness.

About the Author:

×

3 Comments on "Special Report: Exploring Albemarle County Schools budget bloat and obfuscation"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Rob Schilling says:

    Bloated, wasteful, and deceptive could well describe the Albemarle County Schools budget. Read this exclusive Special Report and the recommendations for Albemarle County Supervisors…

  2. Connie Stevens says:

    Thank you very much to the Panel for their exhaustive work here bringing to light this pork barrel, fiscally IRRESPONSIBLE budget! Yes, an audit of the ACPS is sorely needed. I hope our county Board of Supervisors take heed — WE ARE PAYING ATTENTION!

Post a Comment