Dr. Spence proposes future budget to the school board

Dr. Spence proposes future budget to the school board
Posted on 02/08/2021

Chairwoman Rye, Vice-Chair Melnyk and School Board Members,

This Superintendent’s Estimate of Needs (SEON) is often considered to be the unofficial “kick off” to the Board’s budget development process, acknowledging months of discussions and presentations we have had throughout the year about priorities as a school division. However, as I present you this document, the world is a very different place from where we were a year ago at this time, so it may read a little differently than previous SEONs.

Since March of 2020, we’ve navigated the uncharted territory of managing education while in the throes of a worldwide health pandemic. From the moment the governor shut down schools last Spring, the need to build essentially two new school divisions – one all virtual, one face-to-face – emerged, and we hardly missed a beat. We kept our staff employed and paid throughout, taking care of our workforce and bolstering our local and state economies in a time of economic crisis. We created our Continuity of Learning Plan and then shifted to our Emergency Learning Plan, providing some synchronous learning and a more robust asynchronous experience. We tackled the challenges of ending the last school year with minimal learning loss and providing our staff, students and families with the supports they needed. Then we developed and implemented our Fall 2020 Plan, which gave families a choice of virtual or in-person learning and provided a blueprint for a successful first half of the school year. And now, elements of that plan are serving as the foundation for the rest of the 20-21 academic year as we continue to progress in our knowledge both of the virus and of the needs of our school division.

While our $828.8 million operating budget encompasses the wide range of requirements that it takes to run our school system every day, we have always made sure to not only provide the bare essentials to our students and staff, but also the resources and compensation they and our community expect. For the School Board and for this administration, teacher compensation remains a top priority for fiscal year 2021-22. We have heard and we understand how imperative it is for our school staff to be paid what they deserve, and we want to continue making a significant impact in that regard. Given what our teachers have endured this last year, it seems more important than ever that we make good on that request, which is why we have proposed a 4.5% increase in cost of living adjustment (COLA) and a 0.5% step increase for those reaching or below top of scale. For the first time in more than 20 years, we’ve also budgeted for an increased allowance for those employees with advanced degrees, which will make us more competitive in the local market.

While compensation increases are our top priority, we’ve also addressed other division needs in this Estimate of Needs. We’ve continued to put an emphasis on the mental health of our students, for example, by increasing the number of guidance counselors for elementary and middle schools by 16 to meet new SOQ requirements. This will allow us to build on some remarkable progress in our understanding and implementation of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) competencies in our schools. And, we also intend to continue providing the necessary supports for our growing English as a Second Language (ESL) and special education populations. Finally, we’re very excited to provide funding to expand the Spanish Immersion Program and further support the Environmental Studies Program at the Brock Center.

The reason we are on such firm financial ground today—and why we were able to provide our students and staff with the remarkable amount of support we did during an extraordinary time financially and otherwise—is thanks to our chief financial officer, to our award-winning budget and finance staff and to you, our School Board. I am very grateful to work for a school division where we put students and staff first, no matter the situation.

I am also very proud of the work we do in VBCPS, work that provides evidence of the sound stewardship of the resources available to us here. Despite the pandemic-related obstacles we continue to face, as well as the fiscal challenges we’ve wrestled with as a result of the pandemic, VBCPS has thrived. I am proud to say that for the 12th consecutive year, VBCPS reached a record-high On-Time Graduation (OTG) rate, which now stands at 94.2%. In addition, the division’s dropout rate decreased to 2.9%—the lowest on record. VBCPS also outperformed Virginia’s rates of 92.3% for OTG and 5.1% for dropouts. That’s right. Amid a global pandemic, our graduation rate went up, not down.

What a testament to our work. Not only did we graduate our seniors during a health crisis, but we have we kept our future graduates connected to learning and cared for throughout. While our division has been 1:1 for some time, we’ve made our parking lots and playgrounds Wi-Fi accessible and offered extended hours for Chromebook exchange or replacement. One thousand hot spots were purchased and delivered to families, and five thousand wireless headphones were given to teachers along with faster, more powerful laptops.

We’ve kept students fed by making meals available via a pickup model at all schools and by delivering food via bus in some of our more vulnerable neighborhoods. Between March and December 2020, we served or delivered more than 3.8 million meals, and we’re currently averaging 150,000 meals per week.

When our school buildings were closed for in-person learning, we partnered with the city to open Safe Learning Centers, where children of working parents could be secure during the day.

Thanks to your guidance, our resilient, dedicated staff and a patient, supportive community, we have made some amazing things happen. Here are just a few more accomplishments from a remarkable year:

  • Virginia Beach City Public Schools was a first-place winner of the National School Board Association's 2020 Magna Award for removing barriers for students through JumpStart, a partnership between local nonprofit AidNow and the division's school social work services.
  • For exceeding state accreditation standards, narrowing achievement gaps and improving outcomes for students, the State Board of Education awarded Virginia Beach City Public Schools with nine 2020 Highest Achievement Exemplar Awards, more than any other school division in the state. Twelve schools in the division earned the 2020 Continuous Improvement Award, which highlights those schools that are rated “accredited” or “accredited with conditions” for 2019-2020. No other Hampton Roads school division earned as many Continuous Improvement awards.
  • Parkway Elementary School was named a 2020-2021 National ESEA Distinguished School. This is the second year in a row for a VBCPS school to earn this honor. Rosemont Elementary School was a 2019-2020 National ESEA Distinguished School.
  • For the second year in a row, VBCPS was designated a Virginia Environmental Excellence Program Sustainability Partner by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. VBCPS is the only school division in the state to earn this distinction.
  • VBCPS was recognized by VDOE as one of only 15 "School Divisions of Innovation" for designing and implementing alternatives to traditional instructional practices that improve student learning and promote college and career readiness, and good citizenship.
  • For the third consecutive year, all VBCPS comprehensive high schools earned the National Gold Council of Excellence Award from the National Association of Student Councils (NASC). This award recognizes student councils for their records of leadership, service and activities that improve the school and community. VBCPS represents more than 50% of the schools in Virginia on the list of awardees
  • And, for 11 consecutive years, we have been named one of the Best Communities for Music Education by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation for outstanding commitment to music education. Less than 5% of school districts across the nation earn this prestigious award.

I’m also excited about our recently adopted equity policy that provides a framework to advance educational equity in alignment the division’s vision, values, and priorities. This policy calls on us to create an environment where all students have the opportunity to benefit from high standards and where all students have access to effective and inclusive learning environments and the resources required for a high-quality education. As a result, there will be an equity assessment in the coming months, ultimately leading to the development of an equity plan that will guide our work as we seek to bring to life the goals and emphases outlined in that policy and in our strategic plan, Compass to 2025. I can confidently say this Estimate of Needs underscores and will support that work and further distinguishes equity as something that needs to undergird everything we do. The priorities highlighted in this document directly support Goals 1-4 in Compass to 2025, which is a testament to how committed we are to ensuring our division-wide goals are supported from a budget perspective. We are literally putting our money where we as a community have determined it matters most. I am so appreciative of your support in this endeavor, and I can’t wait to see how these efforts continue to move our division forward and effect real change across this great city.

Additionally, as always, VBCPS recognizes the need for ongoing capital improvements across the division—another part of our commitment to ensure that every student and every staff member works and learns in an environment designed for excellence. To that end, the proposed Capital Improvement Program (CIP) includes funding to complete the three projects that are currently underway: Princess Anne Middle School Replacement, the Plaza Annex Addition, and An Achievable Dream Academy at Lynnhaven Middle School. There is also funding in the FY 2021/22 - 2026/27 budget to continue planning for and begin the replacement of Princess Anne High School. This project is now fully funded in the 6-year CIP, as is the Bettie F. Williams Elementary School/Bayside 6th Grade Campus project. This CIP also includes funding to begin planning for the Bayside High School Replacement project in years five and six of the program. This CIP continues to budget for infrastructure projects such as roof and HVAC improvements, as well as replacing playground equipment. Of course, even with all of this, it will be important that we continue the capital improvements conversation with our city leaders, legislators and our community in order to make more substantial progress in the future.

I want to personally thank you for taking the time to read and understand the FY21-22 Superintendent’s Estimate of Needs. I look forward to continuing this collaboration with all of you as we strive to develop a budget that will keep Virginia Beach City Public Schools a world-class school division for our students and families.

Yours in Education,

Dr. Spence Signature

Aaron C. Spence, Ed.D.