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Charlottesville School Board works through early budget
20140201-Charlottesville School Board Budget Work Session
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(L-R) Charlottesville Superintendent Rosa Atkins discusses the school division's budget with School Board members Ned Michie, Jennifer McKeever, and Colette Blount
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by Tim Shea | Saturday, February 01, 2014 at 3:05 p.m.

Charlottesville City Schools are expecting to request about $2 million more than last year’s $70,248,957 budget.

The two largest drivers of the new costs are a state-mandated increase of about $908,000 in payments to the Virginia Retirement System, and a proposed 1.5 percent pay increase for staff, which would add approximately $1 million.

The budget proposes a net increase of 10.4 new full-time employees.

About one percent, or approximately $500,000, of the budget is for new initiatives.

Staff proposed a Jump Start Program aimed at supporting the approximately 25 percent of students who come to kindergarten with no preschool experience. Charlottesville Superintendent Rosa Atkins said kindergarten teachers throughout the division are noticing significant differences between students who do and do not have pre-k experience.

The program, which would come with a $34,873 price tag, would run for three weeks during the summer. Students would adjust to riding a school bus and would attend their classrooms for three hours a day to learn basic skills.

The budget also requests $93,900 to implement an instructional coaching model throughout the division. In the program, 10 instructional coaches would work with teachers to develop “proven teaching methods.”

Atkins said improving direct instruction, and pockets of underachievement was driving the move.

“Our data shows that we have groups of students lagging behind in reading and math,” Atkins said. “We’ve seen some improvement, but we’re nowhere close to being where we need to be.”

“What will make this a success is the ongoing professional development throughout the year,” Atkins added.

The coaches would spend about 80 percent of their time in schools helping teachers. They would also develop curriculum, among other responsibilities.

Each of the elementary schools, Walker Upper Elementary, and Buford Middle would house one coach who would focus on reading and math. Charlottesville High School would house two coaches, one who would focus on math. The second content area is yet to be determined.

To maximize use of the division’s new STEM labs at Buford Middle School and Charlottesville High School, staff is requesting $212,884. This proposal includes hiring a new STEM teacher at CHS and increasing the work year for the current STEM teachers at Buford and CHS. It also includes the shared cost of two University of Virginia graduate students who are developing curriculum and assessments for the division’s new STEM work.

Because the Safe Schools and Healthy Students grant will end in June 2014, the budget requests $260,688 to cover the grant’s costs. The funds would help sustain the three-year-old preschool program at Greenbrier Elementary, provide a mental health counselor at Buford and CHS, and hire a project director. The grant is a shared program with Albemarle County Public Schools. Albemarle would fund 70 percent of the director’s salary.

“We’ve seen the difference it’s made with our students,” Assistant Superintendent Jim Henderson said. “It’s made a big difference in keeping kids in school.”

Henderson said that the division has seen a 60 percent decrease in suspensions from last year, and is on pace to see a 70 percent reduction by the end of this year.

Because the School Board is only charged with providing K-12 education, and since many students in the three-year-old program leave the division over time through transience, Board member Jennifer McKeever questioned the emphasis on the three-year-old pre-k program at Greenbrier if City Council asks for budget reductions.

“This is where the rubber meets the road,” McKeever said. “I believe that it is critical for three-year-olds to be in pre-k, especially at-risk children, but many three-year-olds leave our school system.”

Board members expressed interest in collaborating with outside partners for the mental health counselors.

The School Board will hold a budget public hearing on Thursday, February 6 in the Charlottesville High School Media Center.

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