Charlottesville School Board members Jennifer McKeever and Juan Wade discuss the FY2016 budget.

On the eve of the presentation of next year’s budget for Charlottesville City Schools, members of the School Board shared their priorities at a work session Thursday. The fiscal year 2016 budget proposal is expected to be released next week.

In advance of the presentation, school division staff identified as areas of focus maintaining competitive salaries, strengthening support positions and focusing on technology that will enhance or replace division-wide business systems.

“If the system dies tomorrow, then it really won’t matter how great the people are, because we won’t have anything to do the greatness with,” Board member Leah Puryear said.

Board member Jennifer McKeever said she wants to see substitute teachers making a living wage.

“And perhaps even having a graduated pay scale for substitutes, especially for long-term subs who have taught in the past,” McKeever said.

School Board member Ned Michie said that while the division has always done well serving its advanced students, he would like to see more emphasis placed on is struggling learners. He suggested that an expansion of the preschool program for 3-year-olds could be a place to start.

“And we could also ponder ways to increase the number of instructional coaches,” Michie said, adding that measures taken to improve direct instruction to students is money well spent.

Newly-elected Chairwoman Amy Laufer also supported professional development spending, citing the steep learning curve many teachers face when using new technologies.

Additionally, Laufer said that math and literacy support is needed.

“Anything that we can do in terms of budget to help, that is something I would want,” she said.

Both Laufer and Michie addressed truancy and student achievement.

Laufer said that making sure students in all grades are attending school regularly should be a priority.

Michie advocated for mandatory summer school for struggling students, but noted that doing so would require a summer truancy officer. 

Board member Colette Blount argued that the division could do more to encourage minority students to participate in music and art programs. She noted that while the number of African-American students participating in art and music programs drops as students progress through school, white students’ participation increases.

“I would like to see a music program started that provides weekly lessons to traditionally underserved student populations,” Blount said. “Start maybe with a cohort of five students, and then expand it in later years.”

“Like language, like sports, music is another avenue for our students to excel,” Blount added. “Maybe we’re not doing as much as we can to reach all of our students.”

Board member Juandiego Wade said that this is one reason the division made its fine arts coordinator position full-time.

“This is one of the selling points, if you will, of our school system,” Wade said. “I would like to see these numbers higher.”

Superintendent Rosa Atkins said that she and the fine arts coordinator are developing a plan to build partnerships with community arts organizations to help encourage students to participate.

In December, to account for reduced state revenue estimates, Gov. Terry McAuliffe recommended cutting $272 million from the adopted fiscal year 2015 budget. None of the governor’s recommended reductions, however, take from K-12 education. In fact, those recommendations call for an additional $150 million payment to be made into the teacher’s liability pool of the Virginia Retirement System.

In total, Charlottesville’s schools would see a net positive increase of $222,068 under the governor’s proposed budget. That figure includes $110,377 in state funding and a reduction of $111,691 to the retirement system.

Last year, about $45.6 million of the school division’s $72.3 million budget came directly from local sources.

Charlottesville’s per pupil expenditure for the 2014-15 school year is $16,013. As of Wednesday, the division serves 4,383 students, including preschool.

Last year, the school system found itself $262,000 short of what the School Board said was needed to run effectively. The City Council covered half of the shortfall, and the division was able to balance the budget by eliminating positions and reducing one proposed preschool class.

Last year’s budget also included a 1.5 percent salary increase for teachers in addition to the incremental step up in pay they receive for each year of service, which totaled about 3 percent for most teachers.

A major move last year was the switch to the division’s new instructional coaching model. The new structure cut 6.8 administrative coordinators and added 10 new instructional coaches for a total increase to the budget of $93,000.

New leadership

The board also voted to change leadership Thursday. Amy Laufer, who spent last year as vice chairwoman, was elected to serve as chairwoman. Laufer was elected to the board in 2011.

Leah Puryear was elected to serve as vice chairwoman. Puryear joined the board in 2006, was elected to a third term in 2013. She also represents Charlottesville City Schools on the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center Board.

The School Board is slated to begin discussing proposed initiatives and estimated expenditures at a Jan. 16 work session at CATEC. A final budget will be adopted in the spring.