An old deal between Charlottesville and Albemarle County is creating new tension in Richmond. It comes down to how the state allocates money for education, and whether Albemarle and Charlottesville are getting their fair share.
Albemarle Delegate Rob Bell has introduced an amendment to the state budget that would change the way the state decides how much education money will flow to each locality. The local composite index, or LCI, is a special formula used by the state to determine the level of revenue a locality takes in and, thus, the amount of state funding it should receive for education.
The disagreement in Charlottesville-Albemarle can be summed up simply: Albemarle Schools believes it deserves more state money, but it will come at the expense of the already cash-strapped Charlottesville City Schools.
It all dates back to the early 1980s, when Albemarle and Charlottesville struck a deal. Charlottesville would stop trying to expand its borders if Albemarle agreed to give the city a share of property taxes collected. In recent years, Albemarle County Public Schools says that revenue sharing agreement has caused the county to miss out on millions of dollars in education funding from the state.
The county wants to change the state's funding formula - the LCI - to reflect the money it gives to Charlottesville under this agreement. That could mean millions of dollars more flowing in county coffers for education - but the Charlottesville School Board says that also means millions of dollars would be stripped from its budget.
“It's really a reverse Robin Hood bill, and it's built on flaws of understanding of the history of the revenue sharing agreement,” said Ned Michie, Charlottesville School Board member.
It’s not a new topic for Michie. He and others from the city say the county knew what it was getting into when it signed onto the agreement because the LCI had already been in place for years. If the funding formula is changed, it could result in about $2.9 million shifting from Charlottesville to Albemarle - about 20 percent of the city’s operating education budget.
"We would have to close an elementary school and probably lay off 30 or 40 staff people on top of that,” Michie said. “It’s just a huge amount of money for us.”
Albemarle Schools says it comes down to fairness.
“It does increase the Charlottesville city’s ability to fund education, and it decreases our ability to fund education,” said Albemarle School Board Member Steve Koleszar. “It is an institute of fairness, and it's a state trying to do what's right by the formula.”
With education budgets already tight, Koleszar says the revenue sharing agreement has put the city at a major funding disadvantage county leaders could not have foreseen when they signed onto the deal.
“I don’t think people realized the level of impact it would have,” he said.
Now it will be up to House lawmakers to decide whether the changes to the LCI should be added to the state budget. In past years the prospect has not gained much traction, but new committee and subcommittee leadership could see the proposal advance. Bell’s amendment is currently under consideration in the House appropriations subcommittee on elementary and secondary education.