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.

27 thoughts on “Bell Proposes Transferring $3M from City to County Schools”

  1. I think mr. bell is absoultely right in his actions. There is at least $3M and perhaps more of waste in the city education budget. As far as mr. norris indicating that this would eliminate 40 “teachers” I say good if you can get rid of the slackers who stand in our city classrooms as teachers.

  2. I’m relatively new to the area and confess my ignorance on this subject, but is/was the county helpless from preventing annexation by the city? Wouldn’t the residents in the wealthier “chunks” under consideration for annexation have some say in the matter?

    I confess that I’ve never understood the divided school systems here. And it seems that everyone who can afford it, sends their kid to private school — even when the local public school their child would attend is considered excellent by all objective, and most subjective, measures?

  3. I have children in the county schools. I’m irritated that legislators like Bell will acknowledge that the county school system is strapped for cash, but won’t consider raising the tax rate in the county. This “solution” to the problem doesn’t impress me; it seems like a wild long-shot, a move that would have negative repercussions for years to come in terms of city-county relations (which need to be smooth, IMO).

    Of course, I’m also irritated with county parents who vote for legislators who won’t raise the tax rate.

    I think Waldo’s cynical reading of Bell’s motives is probably spot-on. That goes for Ken Boyd, too.

    New Guy, it’s an unhelpful exaggeration to say that “everyone who can afford it sends their kid to private school.” It’s just not true, and I suspect you have no data to support that claim — just anecdotes, and maybe some preconceptions too.

  4. FWIW, I don’t mean to imply that Bell’s sole motive for this is the political aspect. It’s entirely possible that he believes that the formula should be adjusted because the current system is unfair. I’m just trying to explain the political aspect of this.

  5. If Bell thinks that the city has surplus money the county needs, how about take it a step farther?
    Why not take a few million dollars from wealthy Albemarle County’s schools and give it to Greene, Louisa,Buckingham, or some of the other poorer counties in the area?

  6. No, I see that, Waldo. And FWIW, if Bell is right that the revenue-sharing formula hurts the county unfairly when it comes to figuring out state funding for county schools, then I wouldn’t mind seeing that adjusted. I know Norris says that this was a known part of the agreement from the outset, but I’m willing to hear the argument that in fact the county should not have those dollars counted against us when it comes to state funding for the schools. But I also think it’s a lot easier for Bell to say “the city has our money!” then to say “if county parents want safer, less dangerously overcrowded school buses, county parents need to tolerate a higher tax rate.” That’s the cynical part.

  7. The city has many, many, many of the county’s poor folk. BECAUSE THE CITY PROVIDES SERVICES FOR SAME. Thus, in the inter-regnum, we pay for them.

    When the county property tax rate equals the city property tax rate — think about talking to me. Until then: STFU. We educate your poor, because you make yourselves unattractive to the impoverished and have fewer per capita. Oh, also, there’s the gentleman’s farmer property tax rates that are so onerous for rich (comparatively) folks to renew every five years…

    I am singularly unimpressed. Y’all go back to Jonathan Kozol’s “Savage Inequalities”; actually read it, and then see if you have a leg to yell at me from.

  8. The city has the county’s poor folk? If the city stopped providing all these “services,” perhaps the poor would go back to the county? Does the county deliberately make itself unattractive to the impoverished?

  9. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to refer to them as “our poor”? Unless the poor who live in city got poor specifically because of the actions of people in the county, I’m not sure how they are “my” (as a county resident) poor.

    And can we acknowledge that the county has poor people too? I know that the mean per capita income in the county is higher than in the city, but the county has some extremely, extremely wealthy residents driving up the overall wealth stats. There are many, many non-wealthy people living in rural areas. At my child’s school, 25% of the kids qualify for free/reduced price lunch. There are elementary schools in the county where @, T of the kids qualify. I know that that the overall average is higher in the city schools (around 50%), but it’s not as if every county school is Meriwether Lewis or Murray. We’re not all gentleman farmers who live in Ivy. The city has many of the local poor; the county has many poor people as well.

  10. If this occurs the county gets 3 million and the city still gets 18 million from the county. It’s fair if you look at the math

  11. I wish somewhere some how someone who was in a position to do so – would just sit down and say- “No!” and/or “I dare you!”

    And would just “act out” in general. As in “if you want Cville money for Albemarle schools then we refuse to give it to you- come and take it from us!

    Or – You want to void the revenue sharing agreement? Then We want all of 29 North to the Green County line.

    Imagine “civil disobedience” but with a governmental body as the person exercising the civil disobedience.

  12. Thanks Cecil. @Just Bob. The State now has a moratorium on annexation, so the City has no chance of annexing anything currently.
    The State calculates what it calls a school division’s “ability to pay” index. The County uses its resources to collect taxes which it turns over to the City. The County has no opportunity to use the revenue-sharing funds to pay for its schools, therefore, the revenue-sharing funds should not be credited to the County’s “ability to pay.” Simple. The City has the ability to use the revenue-sharing funds to pay for its schools, therefore, the revenue-sharing funds should be credited to the City’s “ability to pay.” Simple.
    Who authorized Mayor Norris to speak for our elected school board? He’s stepped over the line. The State actually prohibits Council’s establishing school policy. Also, where did “40 teachers” come from? The school board can and should look in other places to trim its budget. Here are some ideas. I’ve read elsewhere recently the board has at least 20 curriculum coordinators who are administrative staff, not teachers. They cost the system over $1M annually. Are they needed as much as teachers? The school board is discussing building a new central office for school administrators. Why not move into Jefferson School on 4th St NW and save millions? The school board is proposing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on software to “manage” the board’s minutes. What’s wrong with using the system that other localities in central Virginia are using, the same one that the board is using now. No, we don’t have to cut 40 classroom teachers.
    As for the County’s raising its tax rate, that has nothing to do with this issue. No one has to look any further than the State’s definition of “ability to pay” in order to know what should be done. It really shouldn’t require any legislation. If we have it I hope it passes.
    If Mayor Norris feels the City has an unfair burden of educating the lower-income population of central VA, maybe he should put the breaks on the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s plans to add over 100 low income units to its public housing sites. If the low income migrators to the city stayed in their own localities, perhaps they could have enough numbers to pressure their local governments to help in providing affordable housing for them. Noris is Council’s representavie to CRHA and can have a great influence on that board’s decisions. Instead, he seems to be knee deep in the expanding industry of providing services and housing for lthe region’s low income population.

  13. Threatening city/county cooperation seems a bit childish to me, but, some good will come out of it if it means we will let the RSWA dissove.

  14. Cville Eye excellent points. Does anyone listen to you on council? or are you like the rest of the folks in cville, just whistling in the dark? I am kind of tired of supporting all the have nots and free loaders who come to the city.

  15. Who authorized Mayor Norris to speak for our elected school board? He’s stepped over the line. The State actually prohibits Council’s establishing school policy.

    I can’t see what’s inappropriate about this. It is council’s job to fund the school system, and the school board’s job to allocate that funding. With external funding threatened, it’s the job of council—and thus the responsibility of the mayor—to address that problem.

  16. It is not the Mayor’s job to establish school board policy. Cutting 40 teachers is a policy decision. It’s the school board’s responsibility to decide where to cut. It is Council’s decision on how much to allocate to the school system and how to raise the funds.
    I’m not saying that the Mayor can not take a position on Bell’s bill. In fact, I would expect all of Council and the Board of Supervisorsto take a position and the citizens, too.

  17. Cutting teachers, buying new school buses, buying computers are policy decision that have financial implications but line items do not come before Council.

  18. “I can’t see what’s inappropriate about this.” The State has a long-established policy governing the relationship between governing bodies and the school board, which was particularly necessary when school boards were appointed. There is still a need for a separation of powers. Keeps everything simple and neat. What if, for example, we had an all Democratic Council and an all Republican school board? Who decides?

  19. @jogger, I haven’t noticed this Council paying much attention to most of the public, with one exception, the group in opposition to the current water proposal, and that was after representatives from 8 city neigborhoos said they supported that group’s position. The rest that goes on seems to be on a predetermined agenda that was never brought up during their campaigns. Good example, expanding the housing on public housing sites.

  20. It is not the Mayor’s job to establish school board policy. Cutting 40 teachers is a policy decision. It’s the school board’s responsibility to decide where to cut.

    The mayor didn’t say that the response would be cut forty teachers. That figure came at this point in the article:

    Charlottesville school officials say Bell’s legislation could force drastic measures — which might include laying off about 40 teachers or adding an additional 6 cents per $100 of assessed value to the city’s 95-cent real-estate tax rate.

    The mayor had nothing to do with that—that’s the school system speaking for themselves, and they’re obviously just providing examples of what that kind of money will buy you, not speaking to what they would do. Then, apparently in response to the school system’s remarks, comes this:

    Norris had said last week: “If the only choice is to lay off dozens of teachers or raise our tax rate 6 cents, the only politically defensible move on our part is going to be to find other ways to get that money out of Albemarle County.”

    As I said, there’s just nothing that I can see about this that’s inappropriate.

  21. Re-reading, technically Waldo is right, as far as this article goes. I’m amassing previous statements.

    “Norris said in an interview late last month that a multi-million-dollar cut in Charlottesville school funding could cause major damage to city schools.

    “We’ll most likely have to lay off teachers, increase class sizes and cut programs for disadvantaged kids in the city,” he warned.”
    Over the line here. Norris’ statement above can be taken as a recommendation.

  22. Thank you, Cville Eye, for finding that earlier quotation from Norris. I saw that one before I read the one Waldo linked to. Norris seems like a likable guy to me, but that earlier statement struck me as just outrageously combative and borderline unethical. To describe three very specific and very emotionally-loaded measures that would “most likely” have to be taken, coming from someone who doesn’t set budget priorities for the schools? A very hardball move.

  23. Ignoring the politics … what is right? Should the formula be changed? My initial reaction was why should it? The money that the county pays to the city is just another line item on the budget. I didn’t see a difference between it and, say, their own teacher salaries. They are both expenses.

    But Cville Eye makes an interesting distinction. The county can cut teacher salaries. They could pay teachers nothing, theoretically. But they *must* pay the city the agreed-upon cut of the annual tax revenue. I hadn’t thought of it that way.

    Since the county has no option to allocate that money to other budget items, it really isn’t like every other budget item.

    I’m still not convinced one way or the other, but I’ve been thinking about that point since I read it.

    So here is a question I thought I’d ask, at the risk of sending this thread careening off into the darkness: what about the city reverting back to town status and making all of this moot? This was seriously considered a few years ago, though at the time I lived in the suburbs (so to speak) and paid little attention. I now live in the city proper, a recent arrival, and on the surface I don’t see why the city wouldn’t revert.

    So I’m wondering, when this came up a few years ago, why did it die? Did the city want to revert but the county did not? Were there supporters and detractors on both sides of the city/county line? Can someone give any kind of Cliff’s Notes summary as to the issues involved?

    I realize that may not be possible, it’s a complex issue. But if Bell’s legislation is the right thing to do, and if the city can’t finance itself without the county tax proceeds, I guess my question is … why bother being a city at all?

    Are there services I’m getting in the city that I just wouldn’t get if the city didn’t exist, because the overall county population wouldn’t offer enough support?

  24. Thanks, Cecil. But, I’m glad Waldo caught my error. I don’t like dispensing incorrect info. I’m hoping that Mayor Norris didn’t plant the seed of thought in his interview for the first article.
    I read that article when it was published and a commenter’s response must have stuck in my mind because I have plagiarized it without meaning to. I thought I originated the idea.

    Posted by Kenneth on December 16, 2009 at 11:02 pm
    Let’s not try to complicate a simple issue. The city has $18M extra to spend on its schools. The county does not. Simple.

    @FlyingRoadstar I can’t put the issue in a nutshell because I stopped paying attention to it when I realized early on that it wasn’t going to happen.
    I do remember that there were those in both the city and county who were opposed to merging the school system, fire departments and the police departments. Also, the city was in favor of having a certain number of seats on the Board of Supervisors and the county suggested that it would slice the city into six parts and add the population to the existing voting districts. In other words some city residents wanted to have distinct representation and some county residents wanted the city’s votes absorbed into larger county pools.

  25. This seems totally fair for the county not to be penalized for the money they give the city. I’m am rather tired of politicians when faced with a budget crisis go first to “OMG we must fire teachers!”. In reality the city and county don’t have to RIF (reduction in force) like many others are doing in other cities in the commonwealth. Mayor Norris would rather gnash his teeth and caterwaul about teacher he must fire then admit it is a fair change to the equation for ability to pay be based on the money the county actually gets to spend and the 18 million the city gets should be considered.
    Defending math that mask reality is about politics and not education or fairness. This is simply a way to properly use ACTUAL dollars each locality in order to assess ability to pay- isn’t that the point of the equation in the first place????

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