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Albemarle School Board hears community’s budget concerns
20140130-Lisa Jones
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With the support of a large showing from the Latino community, Cale Elementary Principal Lisa Jones defends the school's dual language pilot program before the Albemarle School Board.
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by Tim Shea | Friday, January 31, 2014 at 9:56 a.m.

Parents, teachers, and principals packed Lane Auditorium Thursday to provide feedback on the Superintendent’s $164.28 million funding request.

The budget request to the School Board represents a six percent jump from last year’s $155.3 million, and comes on the heels of an estimated $6.76 million shortfall for this coming year.

“I certainly would love to be able to say that when we get to the end of this that we’ll have as little impact as possible on the school system in general as it relates to what goes on in our core classrooms,” Albemarle Superintendent Pam Moran said. “But the reality is I’m not sure where we’re going to be and how we will make that up.”

Maintaining small class sizes and instructional innovations topped audience concerns.

Meriwether Lewis Elementary School teacher Anne Geraty said Albemarle’s small class sizes allow teachers to form the bonds with children that allow for high-quality instruction.

“You have to be able to have a manageable number of children,” Geraty said. “There’s no way that you can form a bond with 30 different kids, or 200 kids if you’re in high school.”

Monticello High School Principal Jesse Turner said cuts to staffing could drive class sizes up.

“As a high school principal, to me that means that my honors courses as well as AP courses, those numbers for students in classes will increase,” Turner said. “And who feels that are my young people who are currently struggling learners.”

Cale Elementary School Principal Lisa Jones, accompanied by nearly 100 members of Albemarle’s Latino community, were worried about the fate of the school’s dual language pilot program.

“Our work has transformed how teachers approach literacy instruction, and thereby transforms learning for all students,” Jones said.

Cale parent Kelley Tobler said her daughter is benefitting from the program.

“As a parent it’s wonderful to see how excited she is to grow and learn and seek out Spanish books and movies,” Tobler said.

“I think that my daughter, if she can graduate from Cale in 5th grade with two languages, it’s going to set her up for such success in the rest of her life.”

Cale parent Maria Jiminez Sanchez said the program is helping her daughter learn English, which will give her increased opportunities in life. Additionally, Sanchez said, the Latino community needs translation and interpretation services to know what’s going on with their children at school.

Sutherland Middle School Principal David Rodgers fears how significant cuts could hurt innovation within the division.

“You recognized two of our students very recently. Those two students made a presentation to the Smithsonian Institution for work they did with some 3D printing,” Rodgers said.

“Today those two students are 12 students,” Rodgers added. “And by next year we expect those 12 to be at least 200.”

Woodbrook Elementary School Principal Lisa Molinaro, whose school has a 54 percent poverty rate, said cuts to her staffing would drastically hurt learning at Woodbrook.

“I will be forced to choose between the classroom teacher and the interventionist,” Molinaro said. “You might be saying ‘Well, they still have a teacher,’ and yes you are correct, but many of our students still require more time and intervention.

Molinaro said a loss of interventionists would translate to a decrease of 150 minutes less instruction per week, or 14.4 school days.

But not all in attendance supported the funding request.

Parent Mike Basile said families can’t afford to pay the higher taxes to fill the budget shortfall.

“A lot of our families don’t have room in the budgets to increase taxes for more stuff for schools,” Basile said. “We expect innovation and creativity in keeping the budgets low, even cutting budgets if necessary.”

What’s more, Basile said, he questions how the division is working technology into homes.

If a parent takes away their child’s school-administered device for disciplinary reasons, yet the student has do work through their flipped classroom, the division is usurping power from the family, Basile said.

“I don’t think there’s a board member on the School Board who would try to suggest that the parents aren’t the first and foremost educators of their children,” Albemarle School Board Chair Ned Gallaway said.

“We know that we’re using the technological tools that children need to be technologically savvy in this day and age,” Gallaway added. “What we’re not going to do is try to dictate how that technology is going to be used in each and every person’s home. Our authority stops when they leave our schools.”

Mandates, a reduction in the division’s fund balance, and enrollment increases make up the factors driving the deficit, schools officials say.

The most significant drivers are a state-mandated $2.3 million increase in Virginia Retirement System contributions, and a School Board and Board of Supervisors-directed $3.2 million for a two percent raise in employee pay and projected $980,000 in health insurance premiums.

Moran said that the division’s fund balance has been slashed in recent years, citing a $1.7 million transfer as directed by the Board of Supervisors, and a $1.5 million loss in savings due to a 75 percent drop in employee turnover. With employee turnover and retirements, new staff are often hired at a lower position on the pay scale resulting in payroll savings.

In addition to the losses in savings, enrollment is expected to rise by 130 students next year, which, budget documents show, will require about 11 new full-time employees.

Less than half of one percent—$732,000—of the budget request is for new initiatives or program restoration, such as the Safe Schools-Healthy Students project and professional development funds.

Moran said she heard an affirmation of community values Thursday.

“This is a community that values their schools in terms of the size of their schools, they value class size, and they believe that small class size allows teachers to build great relationships with children,” Moran said. “And I hear that teachers and parents really support the innovation work that we’re doing.”

The School Board will continue to discuss the budget on Tuesday, February 4.

 

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