(L-R) Instructional coaches Lars Holmstrom and Catrina Sims discuss their roles with the Albemarle School Board.

Albemarle County Public Schools’ financial picture could be getting a little sunnier.

The Albemarle School Board is now anticipating an additional $1.2 million in state and local money, $395,247 in savings from decreased fuel and utility costs this year and savings due to retirement and employees leaving the division. With these new revenue sources, the school division is expecting its deficit to fall from $3.1 million to about $1.5 million.

However, if the board chooses to add or expand programming during budget negotiations over the next week, schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said, the deficit could rise again.

The board is entering its final week of debate over next fiscal year’s spending plan, which currently totals $166.9 million, a sum that is 4 percent greater than last year’s budget of $160.4 million, and approximately $3.1 million beyond initially anticipated revenues.

The division’s instructional coaches — experienced educators who support classroom teachers — also presented to the board.

“We’re really trying to support the school division’s mission of creating a community of learners and learning,” said Tony Borash, Albemarle’s lead science coach.

Following one year of planning in 2008, 24 instructional coaches entered the division in 2009. Since then, they have helped classroom teachers design curriculum and tests, integrate technology and demonstrate best-practices.

“On any given day our instructional coaches are developing innovative instructional strategies by modeling, observing [and] … supporting our teachers with literacy and math,” said Jennifer Sublette-Williamson, Albemarle’s lead history and social science coach.

Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools, said she considers the program real-time professional development. Only about 10 percent of teachers who attend professional development sessions implement those practices, Moran said, whereas the teachers who have partners in their schools apply new practices more regularly.

Lars Holmstrom, a first-year instructional coach, said coaches serve as a resource for teachers.

“The coaches are in a constant position to expand the process of learning, sharing and connecting,” Holmstrom said.

The program is also designed to have coaches return to classroom teaching after three years of helping their peers.

Hollins Mills, a classroom teacher who was an instructional coach, said this element benefits everyone.

“You’re taking a giant step forward because you get to take everything that you’ve learned from your time as a coach back into the classroom,” Mills said, adding that she continues to coach in her building in a casual capacity.

School Board member Jason Buyaki questioned how often coaches meet with inexperienced teachers.

“I meet with my instructional coach multiple times a week,” said Laura Gomez, a novice teacher at Jack Jouett Middle School who added that the coaches meet with all new teachers.

What’s more, Moran said, coaches are helping the division retain teachers through the first five years of their careers, which is the time when many educators leave the profession.

Currently, there are six lead coaches who oversee 22 instructional coaches. The instructional coaches, who are organized by content area, each work with three schools. Four of the lead coaches support the instructional coaches in four schools, and two lead coaches support the instructional coaches in five schools, Giaramita said.

This year, Moran is requesting about $2.2 million for the initiative — just over $821,000 for the lead coaches and about $1.45 million for the instructional coaches.

The board also heard more information about proposed salary increases for staff, but made no decisions on the matter.

Jackson Zimmerman, the division’s finance director, presented three compensation options for the board to consider in addition to the recommendation in the superintendent’s funding request, which costs $1.3 million and suggests a 2 percent pay raise for staff, and which is effective in the middle of fiscal year 2016.

In order to implement a 2 percent raise for the entire year would cost $2.6 million. A 1 percent raise in the first half of the fiscal year followed by a 2 percent raise in the second half would cost $1.94 million, Zimmerman said.

Using one-time money, the board could also give all staff a one-time bonus check for the first half of the fiscal year and a 2 percent raise in the second half, for a total of $2.3 million, Zimmerman added.

The board also received an update on possible areas for reduction to balance the budget.

At the superintendent’s discretion, reductions to central office staff could save as much as $217,515.

Staffing for half of the anticipated enrollment growth would cut $1.1 million from the funding request.

Opting out of new resources, such as new school nurses, could see the budget reduced by $190,000.

The meeting continued beyond press time.

The board plans to adopt the budget at a meeting set for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 12 in the County Office Building on McIntire Road. After approval, the budget heads to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.
 

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