The superintendent of Charlottesville City Schools wants to pay all of the division’s employees a living wage next year.

At a School Board budget work session Saturday morning, Rosa Atkins shared a preliminary budget proposal for fiscal year 2020 that would establish a minimum hourly wage of $15 for custodial and nutritional staff and instructional assistants.

The proposal would increase the minimum salary for a custodian from $28,206 to about $30,200.

As one of the Charlottesville area’s largest employers, the city school system has an important role in addressing local affordability issues, Atkins said.

“[Charlottesville] can work with the housing itself and the cost of that housing, but we must balance that with jobs that will allow people to afford it,” she said. “We are a part of that formula.”

The total cost of moving up pay scales for the affected positions is estimated at $423,789. Assistant Superintendent Kim Powell said some compression of yearly step increases in the pay scale was necessary to make the change fit within next year’s budget.

School Board Chairwoman Jennifer McKeever said she would like to see further pay increases for instructional assistants.

“If we can’t do it this year, I would like to see that we do it next year,” McKeever said. “Imagine the impact it would have on our community.”

Transportation

Atkins’ living wage proposal does not apply to school bus drivers, who are employed by the city of Charlottesville’s Department of Public Works. The City Council voted to raise the minimum wage for city employees to $14.40 in 2018 and is expected to raise it to $15 an hour for the upcoming fiscal year.

Atkins said Charlottesville City Schools is working to bring transportation services under the school division’s authority. She has requested $18,325 to create a new administrative position to facilitate this transition.

The preliminary budget request also includes $133,460 to provide transportation to special education students who move outside of city limits due to homelessness or a foster care placement.

Gifted services

Atkins’ current budget proposal represents a $4.3 million — or 5.2 percent — increase from this year’s budget. It would support a 3.75 percent raise for teachers and a 2.75 percent raise for classified staff.

School Board member Sherry Kraft asked if next year’s budget would include any new funding for Quest, the city’s gifted education program.

Racial disparities in gifted identification emerged as a key area of concern at community forums on equity that the division hosted last fall.

“If we are thinking of equity and trying to make some changes to this program, what costs may be incurred?” Kraft said.

Atkins said the division’s initial changes to gifted identification and teaching would not require new funding. She said she would provide more information on potential changes after the budget is approved.

“We are working within our budget for the foreseeable future, for the short term,” Atkins said. “As we lay out the steps of the plan [for Quest], we will have to adjust.”

The Charlottesville School Board is slated to hold a joint meeting with the City Council at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center.

Expansion plans

The School Board on Saturday also discussed how it would move forward with planned facilities expansion projects.

In December, the School Board endorsed a plan to convert the Walker Upper Elementary School building to a centralized preschool facility, move fifth grade students back to the city’s elementary schools and expand Buford Middle School to include students in sixth through eighth grade.

McKeever said the School Board would about include $3 million for the projects’ engineering and design costs in its capital improvement request for fiscal year 2020. Construction costs are estimated at $55 million.

“We are going to need to advocate for this at the public level,” McKeever said. “Now is the time to make sure that our community is behind this.”

Atkins said the division still needs to identify the best sequence for completing the projects and make plans for accommodating Walker and Buford’s students and staff during the proposed construction.

“It will be a disruption to how we currently operate,” Atkins said. “It can be an exciting time, even though we have to make those adjustments.”

Interim appointment

McKeever also gave an update on the School Board’s plans to fill the vacancy left by former member Amy Laufer. Laufer resigned from the board earlier this month when her family moved to Albemarle County. Her seat is up for election in November.

School Board members were supportive of McKeever’s suggestion to make an interim appointment of another former member who would not run in the election.

“This is a very short term,” McKeever said.