The Charlottesville School Board on Tuesday told the City Council that the division would like a portion of its capital improvement program funds to be dedicated to improvement and modernization projects and said it is having trouble maintaining a strong staff of bus drivers.
At a joint luncheon at CitySpace, the bodies discussed the division’s long- and short-term needs but did not vote on any solutions.
Schools officials said limited pay, crowded buses and the stress of keeping discipline in check mean the division has some difficulty keeping a full staff of bus drivers. Large portions of the drivers’ paychecks are eaten up by health insurance costs, Superintendent Rosa Atkins said.
“Many of our drivers work four hours, and they work mainly for the health insurance benefits,” she said. “But their health insurance costs are about $259 a pay period for a family plan … so most of their income goes to that health insurance cost.”
Assistant Superintendent Ed Gillaspie said the division is expediting the hiring process for two vacant administrative positions in the schools’ transportation department and will advocate for a raise for the drivers.
School Board members reiterated their desire to have CIP funds dedicated to improvement and modernization projects. Schools staff members earlier this year said that the division could face crowding problems in the future as enrollments increased, reversing a years-old downward trend.
The School Board voted unanimously in September to take before the city a package of classroom improvements at Walker Upper Elementary and Buford Middle schools for consideration in the CIP. Those projects did not have associated cost estimates.
The division historically has received about $1.5 million in annual capital improvement funding, most of which has been used for facilities maintenance.
The division is currently working on a capacity and modernization study it plans to have in hand by February or March, officials said Tuesday. Board member Ned Michie said the city’s facilities are falling behind those in Albemarle County.
“I think it is particularly telling that our neighbors have just done this bond issue, and a big portion of it is for modernization, and their buildings are more modern than ours,” Michie said in reference to the $35.5 million bond referendum for school projects that county voters approved earlier this month.
“We are going to need to have that discussion, and it is compelling to me that the county citizens voted overwhelmingly to have their taxes be a little higher to pay for school modernizations,” he said.
Councilor Kristin Szakos said she would like to see a ballpark price tag for the modernization efforts and more justification from both the schools and city staff.
“We need a ballpark figure of what you are working with. Are you talking about $2 million or are you talking about $40 million,” Szakos said. “We also need to have materials from both boards about why this is important, why this stuff matters.”
The Charlottesville-Albemarle Early Education Task Force also presented the boards with the findings from its fiscal map study, which was completed in September.
Among other things, the report found that Charlottesville provides 90 percent of eligible at-risk 4-year-olds with access to pre-K, while Albemarle County provides services for 70 percent.