Charlottesville School Board to hire lobbying firm to lobby sales tax | Education

With a bill to help Charlottesville raise the local sales tax to pay for school construction projects, the city’s school board plans to spend $20,000 to hire a lobbying firm for the remainder. of the legislative session.

The council’s decision comes after a House subcommittee killed three bills regarding the local sales tax option. Under one of the proposed bills, Charlottesville would receive authority from the General Assembly to ask voters by referendum for approval to raise the local sales tax by up to 1%.

Another bill would have given this authority to all localities in the state. Currently, nine localities in Virginia have received similar General Assembly authorization to hold a referendum since Halifax County proposed the idea in 2019.

The House subcommittee did not discuss the motion to put three sales tax bills on the table before voting 5-3 to do so.

“It has generated some disappointment and cause for concern,” said Kim Powell, the division’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations. “Because it’s a really important source of funding that needs to be presented to the citizens of Charlottesville for a decision.”

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Two Senate bills — one specific to Charlottesville and one involving the statewide option — cleared the state Senate early last week, meaning the overall effort n is not dead.

The school board has approved a hiring plan from Commonwealth Strategy Group, which is based in Richmond.

“The goal is to help move the conversation from a partisan conversation to a bipartisan consideration,” Powell said.

The group advised the school division to focus on passing Senate Bill 298, which is sponsored by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, Powell said. This is the law specific to Charlottesville.

The sales tax increase is expected to bring in $12 million a year, city officials said. This additional funding would support the renovation and expansion of Buford Middle School, which is part of the first phase of the school division’s reconfiguration project. The city has included $75 million for the project in its five-year capital improvement program.

The school board received the final schematic designs for the project at Thursday’s meeting.

Without the sales tax, city officials said they would have to raise the property tax rate by 10 cents, which would pay for the reconfiguration as well as the other CIP projects. However, city councilors expressed skepticism over the project at a joint meeting on Wednesday.

Later in the meeting, Superintendent of Schools Royal Gurley Jr. presented his operating budget of $106.9 million for fiscal year 2023. This amount includes $23 million in special revenue, which includes grants and millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds.

The budget is largely unchanged from what was presented to the school board last month, although officials have cut the full-time theater teaching position at Buford Middle School.

Overall, the spending plan would give all staff a 5% raise and reduce reliance on one-time federal funds through $1.4 million in cost and staff reductions, including 15 instructional depending on the presentation.

However, no current employees are expected to lose their jobs, as staff reductions would be through attrition.

The school division is requesting $4.2M from the City for its budget, which shows $3.54M in net expenditures compared to the current operating budget. This $4.2 million includes the $3.3 million the school system would receive through an allocation formula with the city.

Under this formula, which is not official policy, the school division receives 40% of new real estate revenue, although the city has always provided more than that.

This request was not discussed at length during Wednesday’s joint meeting between the city council and the school board. The city council also held a working session on the budget on Thursday evening.

For the current fiscal year, the school system received $58.7 million from the city, which has not changed in the past two years. This local money makes up the bulk of the division’s operating budget.

“It’s local ownership that determines what can and can’t happen in the school division,” Powell said.

The school board will vote on the budget later this month before presenting the request to city council in March.

Board members supported the budget in comments after the presentation.

“It’s a very modest request,” said board member Jennifer McKeever, adding that she was supporting staff in the midst of a pandemic and a time of inflation. “We are the experts on this budget. Operationally, you have done a phenomenal job of doing what we asked you to do.”

Sallie R. Loera