Charlottesville City Schools Finance Director Ed Gillaspie presenting the final budget to the School Board

The Charlottesville City School Board Thursday adopted a funding request of $73,213,082—about a four percent jump from last years’ overall budget.

Within that total, the Board hopes $45,830,289 million comes from City Council, which represents about a $1.7 million increase from last year’s ask.

The budget, which is balanced to expected revenues, proposes a net increase of 5.44 new full-time employees.

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

State mandates and a proposed pay increase for staff comprise the majority of the increase.

A nearly three percent hike in payments to the Virginia Retirement System translates to about $908,000 charged to the division, and a suggested 1.5 percent pay increase for staff would add approximately $1 million.

The most significant new initiative revamps professional development by relocating curriculum and teaching specialists from central office to the schools.

The move, which comes with a $93,000 price tag, would cut 6.8 administrative coordinators, and add 10 instructional coaches who would work with teachers.

In addition to developing curriculum, the coaches will spend about 80 percent of their time aiding teachers.

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.

Superintendent Rosa Atkins said improving direct instruction and pockets of underachievement drove the move. Albemarle County implemented a similar program several years ago.

But not all within the division support the move.

Charlottesville High School teacher Margaret Thornton said the structural change could lead to a lack of continuity across the division.

“All of the research that I reviewed about the coaching model, coaches had about 20 to 30 teachers under their purview,” Thornton said.

“At CHS, if you assigned two coaches to this school of one-hundred ninety-something teachers, we’d have almost 100 teachers to a coordinator,” Thornton added, “and I think it would become very difficult to have that continuity between grade levels, and we certainly wouldn’t have that continuity between schools.”

Bonnie Yoder, a teacher at Jackson-Via Elementary School and Co-President of the Charlottesville Education Association, agreed.

Additionally, Yoder said, letting academic coordinators go, rather than shifting them into coaching positions, was not the way to go.

“These are some of our most talented people and that we need to keep in our system,” Yoder said. “I wish those things had been handled in a more delicate and appreciative manner.”

School Board member Jennifer McKeever—the budget’s only ‘No’ vote—also expressed concern about the professional development move.

“By doing away with the coordinators the uniformity will be lost and vertical alignment will be lost, and that will impact our reading and math scores, and graduation rates in the future,” McKeever said.

“I would have preferred to see the coordinators remain the curriculum leads, and I would have loved to have seen the raise not be as significant, but keep the coordinators for at least another year.”

“If we could have everything we want, we could have both,” Atkins said. “But the reality is that the funds and resources we have today don’t allow us to do both.”

The division is also proposing a three-week summer program to help the nearly 25 percent of students who arrive in kindergarten with no preschool experience.

Atkins said kindergarten teachers are noticing significant differences between students who do and do not have pre-k experience.

The Jump Start Program would cost $34,873 and would familiarize students with riding a school bus and basic school day skills.

The Board also implemented a 10 percent tuition increase, staggered over two years, for out-of-district students.

In the first year, the change, which was recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Sustainable School Funding, is expected to fetch $13,665.

Due to an additional $192,000 from the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI), Charlottesville will pick up two new preschool classrooms, one of which will be funded by VPI, and one by local dollars.

Charlottesville absorbed about $500,000 in Title I and other pre-k cuts last year due to the federal sequestration program. Because of this large investment, Charlottesville is now eligible for VPI’s matching funds.

School Board Chair Juandiego Wade said the Board took a conservative approach to this year’s budget.

“We really didn’t know what the financial picture would be, but we knew it wouldn’t be as bad as last year and the year before,” Wade said. “We could have included a lot of other things, but we wanted to be prudent with the funds.”

Among the major initiatives recent School Boards have discussed include reconfiguring grades 5-8, which the Blue Ribbon Commission found would cost between $50 and $60 million over 10 years. Doing so would return 5th graders to their home elementary schools and create one middle school for grades 6-8.

“We’ve been talking about reconfiguration for many years,” Wade said. “I think the public is ready to move on with it, and we are, but we’re aware that City Council has other funding needs as well, so it’s just not a good time for it.”

Wade also said the Board is not considering closing an elementary school, which the Blue Ribbon Commission identified as a possible action to be taken.

Schools officials will present the budget to City Council on Monday, March 3.