Tuition increases, a new instructional coaching model, and Schoolyard gardens topped the Charlottesville School Board’s budget discussion Thursday.
The total budget was proposed at $68 million, which is about a $3 million increase from last year.
The two major items driving the increase are the state-mandated contributions to the Virginia Retirement System, which comes to about $908,000, and a proposed 1.5 percent pay increase for staff, which would add approximately $1 million.
A major new initiative the division hopes to roll out in the coming year is a change from curriculum leads at the central office level, to an instructional coaching model that embeds mentor teachers at the schools.
At a request of $93,900 in new spending, the instructional coaching model would add ten coaches. 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.
Board member Jennifer McKeever expressed concern over how the coaches would handle consistency at the schools.
“Issues have come up where one elementary school is doing one thing and another school is doing another, causing tension,” McKeever said
Some Board members saw the inconsistency as an opportunity to tailor the program to the needs of the school.
“Being site-based has a very strong benefit,” Board member Colette Blount said. “It is like having a resident staff member as a resource for teachers.”
“The [on-site] coach will help direct us as to which subject area of expertise is needed by the person who is hired,” Superintendent Rosa Atkins said.
The coaches will spend about 80 percent of their time at their designated school helping teachers develop lesson plans, offer professional development services, and identify needs of the students.
Board member Leah Puryear said current teachers could be identified as coaches, and that the coaches would be able to work with teachers of all levels of experience.
“I know a coach [in another school division] who had previously held another position in the school where she worked,” Puryear said. “The principal had identified two seasoned instructors who were having trouble making adjustments related to new requirements and technologies.”
“Hiring from within is important,” said board member Amy Laufer. “We have a lot of great teachers.”
The Board also addressed the City Schoolyard Garden request for an additional $25,000 to support a garden educator position at Buford Middle School.
“[The garden educator’s] position has been there for several years,” Assistant Superintendent James Henderson said. “We’re just being asked to provide support for the position.”
“Two years ago, we gave $36,000 to the City Schoolyard Garden to develop curriculum and to support the Buford educator,” said Henderson.
The Schoolyard Garden position helps teachers develop curriculum around activities in the gardens. The program has over 8,750 square feet of gardens at every Charlottesville public elementary school and Buford Middle School.
As recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Sustainable School Funding, the Board also debated a tuition rate increase for out-of-district students. The proposed budget includes a 10 percent rate increase.
“Why is ten percent needed when it could dramatically impact family budgets?” McKeever asked. “We’ve done it in the past at approximately five percent. I think it is a reasonable increase.”
Many of the board members preferred to stagger the increase over two years.
“We’ll get [to a ten percent increase], it will just be a year later,” Board Chair Juandiego Wade said.
The potential financial gain convinced other board members that 10 percent is a better decision.
“It generates revenue,” Blount said. “Given the numbers and our new programs, which are very attractive, I lean more towards the 10 percent.”
“Last year the board decided not to increase, because enrollment was starting to go up,” Henderson said. “[Enrollment] is at the highest level right now with the five percent increase from two years ago.”
The division served 278 out-of-district students in 2012-13.
Currently, the division charges $1,100 for the first child in a family, and $900 for each additional child for grades K-8, and $1,400 for the first child and $1,200 for each additional child in high school.
The Charlottesville City School Board will meet on February 19 at CATEC, and again on February 22, when they will vote to adopt the budget.