Bell Proposes Transferring $3M from City to County Schools

Brandon Shulleeta had a story in the Daily Progress a week ago that went largely unnoticed in the snowstorm, but that warrants attention. Del. Rob Bell is introducing legislation to take $3M in school funding from Charlottesville and give it to Albemarle County. The state’s school funding formula gives differing amounts of funding to different localities, depending on how wealthy they are—the more money that they have to fund schools, the less that they need from the state. The formula doesn’t take into account the revenue sharing agreement between the city and the county, by which Charlottesville agreed to stop annexing chunks of the county to expand the city tax base if Albemarle would agree to give them a chunk of their tax income. Bell wants the state to consider that money when handing out education funds, which would hack millions out of the city’s education budget. In doing so, Bell has tossed a can of kerosene onto the small fire that is city/county revenue sharing, which began to heat up again in March of 2008 when Supervisor Ken Boyd threatened to simply stop making payments to the city.

Everybody that you’d expect to be upset is upset, along the lines that you’d anticipate. The city says that the effect would be laying off forty teachers, with Mayor Dave Norris saying that “needs of our city school children will not be held hostage to these kind of desperate measures by Albemarle County.” Members of the county school board voted 4-3 in support of Bell’s legislation, with one member saying of Charlottesville: “They have our money. We need money.” Norris argues that revenue sharing went into place years after the school funding formula was agreed on, so this funding process was a part of the implicit agreement at the time of the initial revenue sharing agreement. Albemarle School Board Chairman Brian Wheeler opposes Bell’s bill, telling the Progress that he just doesn’t think that the legislature is going to pass the bill, anyhow, meaning that the county may badly damage its relationship with the city, but to no effect.

There’s also a political aspect to this. Del. Bell, a conservative Republican, stands to lose little from filing this bill. His district, the 58th, doesn’t include any of the city. Charlottesville is reliably the second-most-liberal locality in the state (only Petersburg provides a higher percentage of vote for Democrats), so it’s not like he has to worry about many Republicans in the city turning against him, ceasing to volunteer for his campaign or contribute money. When it comes time for reelection, Bell gets to say that he brought in $3M to Albemarle schools; better still, he took it from the city, since some county residents are angry that a chunk of their taxes goes to fund the city. Even if the bill fails, he still “fought for Albemarle schools” (as the postcards will say), and he’ll earn some political capital.

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