Albemarle County schools are continuing to hash out the details of the major budget deficit they are facing this year. The school board is diving deeper into Superintendent Pam Moran's multi-million-dollar funding request. A good chunk of the money troubles can be attributed to state mandates like the Virginia Retirement System, but some other budget priorities are being called into question.
Moran defends her $164 million spending plan, saying every dollar is needed for a quality education. But school board members like Eric Strucko want to take a more discerning eye to the budget.
Since fiscal year 2011 through 2012, the school division's budget has increased almost 16 percent. But in that year, student enrollment barely moved - up less than a percent.
Moran says contributions to the retirement system have been the driving factor behind the budget jump, and she's right. The division's VRS contribution has ballooned more than 136 percent since 2011.
This year, county schools are facing a $6.7 million deficit.
"I was looking at things like increases in general supplies and food, catered food for meetings, things like that on our list of possible ways to bring the budget in balance,” Strucko said.
Strucko says when you're facing a gap so big, fat can be cut from the budget. He's found about $1 million in questionable spending.
NBC29 found almost $280,000 in catering, travel and other food expenses - enough to save a number of the things on the chopping block. That includes $4,700 in bottled water and more than $61,000 set aside for food for meetings, including professional development days for teachers.
"We provide them with lunch and something to drink so they aren't leaving and having to go out and then come back in,” Moran said.
According to Strucko's potential discretionary cuts, which include scaling back on increases in general supplies among other line items, that's almost enough money to prevent class sizes from going up next school year.
He says cutting that should come before touching the classroom.
"Personally, I think that's truly a drastic measure. I would prefer looking at individual line item accounts and see if I can identify the little things that, when accumulated up, add up to a substantial sum of money,” Strucko said.
The state and county revenues have not come down yet, and those will have a major impact on the types of cuts the school board will potentially be making.
Strucko's cuts still have to be reviewed by county staff to see what can and can't be done, but it is something that will be discussed again when the board meets Thursday.