The Albemarle County School Board on Thursday voted, 6-1, to adopt a $188.5 million funding request. School Board member Jason Buyaki cast the dissenting vote.
The School Board’s proposed expenditures are $1.45 million over projected revenues for next year. New expenditures the School Board approved Wednesday added $186,326 to the revenue gap in Superintendent Pam Moran’s initial spending plan for fiscal year 2019.
“We will be getting updates [from county government officials] in terms of revenues,” School Board Chairwoman Kate Acuff said. “Through an iterative process, we will end up with a budget where the revenues and expenditures match.”
The School Board’s approved request adds $180,847 for staffing to support the county’s upcoming redistricting of urban ring elementary schools.
“When you are moving large numbers of kids to each school, it will change [free-and-reduced lunch eligibility] numbers and the required staffing will increase,” said Jackson Zimmermann, finance director for county schools.
The School Board’s request includes $37,676 to add a part-time equity education specialist in the division’s Office of Community Engagement. The employee would work with a new full-time specialist included in Moran’s initial funding request.
Bernard Hairston, executive director of the Office of Community Engagement, said the specialists would supervise professional development for the county’s culturally responsive teaching program.
“The board took it upon itself to increase [the staffing] based on the rapid growth of the program and the overall impact it is having on the school division,” Hairston said.
The School Board added $35,092 to its request to cover the salaries of school resource officers from the county police department. Zimmermann said the officers designated for next year collectively have more seniority than those currently working in the schools, and thus command higher salaries.
The School Board’s funding request includes $378,270 to add teachers at each high school to implement a new freshman seminar course. All ninth-graders would be required to take it next academic year.
The proposed seminar would be designed to help students identify their individual strengths, develop their emotional intelligence and learn strategies for overcoming adversity and stress. The seminar groups would be capped at 15 students.
Laura Chatterson, the school division’s lead teacher for secondary visual arts, said in a public comment that she felt that the freshman seminar already was negatively impacting students’ enrollment in art, music and drama courses and other electives.
Chatterson said current registration for Monticello High School’s introductory photography course for the 2018-2019 academic year was down 31 percent compared with this year. While 98 students currently are enrolled in Monticello’s introductory art class, only 22 have signed up to take it next year, she said.
“This is because the new course requirement for the freshman seminar limits their access [to the fine arts],” Chatterson said.
The funding request also includes $607,000 to open a small satellite facility on leased space dedicated to project-based learning for high school students. The facility would be a proof of concept for a larger center that the School Board hopes would address the division’s capacity needs. The location of the pilot center has yet to be determined.
Over $3 million of the division’s proposed increase in spending would go towards a 2 percent compensation increase for teachers, and restructuring the teacher pay scale such that salaries will increase at a constant rate for each additional year of experience.
Also on Thursday, Deputy Superintendent Matt Haas announced the school division will remove Lee-Jackson Day from its calendar, which is mailed to families each year.
In public comments before the School Board in January, multiple parents and students said listing the state holiday, which honors two Confederate generals, was insensitive and harmful to students of color — particularly in light of white nationalist rallies that took place in Charlottesville last year.
“What once seemed routine, may no longer be acceptable,” Haas said. “Although this holiday is not observed in our schools, it commemorates historical figures associated with societal values that conflict with the values of our school division. We do not believe it is in the best interest of our entire school community to list Lee-Jackson Day as a time for celebration,” he said.