Albemarle public schools will send $2.1 million from the division’s fund balance to the county’s capital improvement plan. That contribution will take the fund balance from $5.1 million to $3.02 million.
County supervisors voted unanimously on Thursday to enact a policy capping the school division’s contribution to its fund balance at 2 percent of the annual operating budget. Any school budget surplus over 2 percent will be sent to the capital improvement plan.
“I think it is wise to have a fund balance available for schools, but I also think that it is wise to have some excess go into a general fund for everyone to use,” said Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker.
The fund balance decision came after the Board of Supervisors and the School Board met last month to try to reach consensus on the fund balance contribution. The School Board originally asked the county to consider letting the division keep between 2 percent and 4 percent of its budget for the fund balance.
Mary Margaret Frank, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, supported the schools’ request.
“I was very disappointed to hear that after much thought about how to implement best practices, which would be useful to the school system’s financial and budget process, the … incentive range was rejected by the Board of Supervisors,” Frank said.
School officials said they aren’t worried about getting the money they need, but receiving it will take longer under the new policy.
“We feel that we have less margin to solve some of our own problems now,” said Josh Davis, county schools chief operating officer. “There may be more times that the School Board has to go to the Board of Supervisors for one-time money now.”
In the last two fiscal years, the schools have used money from the fund balance to help fill funding gaps. The division pulled just over $2 million from the fund balance this year, school officials said.
The same vote moved the burden of paying for school buses from the schools’ operating budget to the capital improvement plan. Buses cost the county schools about $1.2 million annually, after a $300,000 contribution from the state.
Last year, Davis said, the county schools purchased 15 new buses. All the money for those purchases, he said, came from the state and the county schools.
“To me, tying buses and fund balance together is important,” Rooker said. “I’m not prepared to vote for the 2 percent ceiling without the bus expense being moved over to the CIP.”