In response to a request from Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent Pam Moran, the Albemarle School Board on Thursday discussed new initiatives they would like to see in Moran’s funding request, which she is scheduled to deliver to the board in January.
The conversation comes on the heels of news that the division is projecting a $6.4 million funding gap to start fiscal year 2017.
“This is an entry-level conversation,” Moran told the School Board. “We’re hearing your voice as we build toward having a funding request in place.”
Currently, all Cale Elementary School students receive either immersion or pullout Spanish language instruction, and last year the Board said it would like to grow the elementary world languages program to at least one school in each feeder pattern.
In an immersion classroom, students are taught up to 50 percent of the day in Spanish, and the remainder in English. Pullout students receive about an hour of Spanish language instruction per week.
School Board member Steve Koleszar said he supports the program’s expansion in the upcoming budget.
“I would certainly want to see funding for the first year,” Kolesar said. “It’s a critical first step for improving the quality of education for our children.”
But School Board member Kate Acuff said the Cale program — which began as a pilot — isn’t complete until the students get to middle school.
“So one could make the argument that we should delay expansion until these children hit middle school,” Acuff said.
Koleszar agreed, but said the pilot could be evaluated by the academic progress Cale’s teachers are seeing.
Debbie Collins, the school system’s director of K-12 instruction, said immersion classes are cost-neutral because a teacher provides instruction in two languages. Pullout instruction costs about $100,000 for the first year, and covers the teacher and classroom resources.
“You have to keep in mind that this will become a recurring cost, and that it will grow as we build it up through the system,” Moran said.
The division’s once-stout professional development budget has been in decline since 2009, and School Board member Barbara Massie Mouly asked if the division is doing enough to support its teachers.
Acuff echoed the sentiment, and asked if the division’s second assistant superintendent position — the funds for which Moran allocated to professional development last fiscal year following the departure of Billy Haun — should be filled.
“Do we have a robust enough central office?” Acuff asked. “Once you remove that position and put the money elsewhere, you never really get it back.”
Moran said the division could ask human resources to compare Albemarle County Public Schools to other like divisions.
“But I do think that professional development is incredibly important, which is why I offered that position,” Moran said. “If I’m weighing that position against teachers, the advantage goes to the teachers.”
The School Board plans to revisit these suggestions throughout the budget development process this fall and winter, taking into consideration additional information about enrollment growth and revenues.
Additionally, in an Oct. 14 joint meeting, the School Board and Board of Supervisors are set to determine preliminary salary and benefits figures for local government and school division employees — an annual conversation that begins to solidify the budget outlook.
In December, Gov. Terry McAuliffe is slated release his budget, which will include state revenue and Virginia Retirement System projections, figures Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for Albemarle’s schools, said will have a significant impact on the school division’s funding request.