In advance of Election Day on November 5, Charlottesville Tomorrow has mailed out in-depth nonpartisan voter guides, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all the candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council. In advance of the election, we will also feature their responses to important questions about their qualifications, priorities, and key quality of life issues so that our citizens can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice.
Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2013 Election Center website features links to the full written transcript and audio of candidate interviews, copies of our 2013 voter guide, information on where to vote, and more. All the following passages are excerpts from our interviews.
CHARLOTTESVILLE CITY COUNCIL, SECOND IN A SERIES
The Charlottesville City Council has provided the school division with one-time funds to balance recent budgets. What steps should the council take to help the school board build a more sustainable school budget?
Well I have two children in the city school system. They started out at Jackson-Via Elementary, where they could have walked to school but they were bused. They moved up to Walker and now in Buford, they both were active in sports, and in the music programs of the city school system. We love the city school system and we do have a great system that we need to advertise more and we need to get the successes out there. For so many people there’s a perception that it is not a great school system, and it really truly is.
With that said, there’s nothing in school system whatsoever that I’m looking to cut. Some folks have said, as a conservative, you’re going to come in looking to cut. I don’t want to cut any program or any money of the school funding. But what I think we can do is if we set the proper example, through the guidelines we use in creating our own budget that will roll over to the school system setting up their budget. They are going to have a more predictable city council and city budget, and their budgets are going to work better for them.
Well the first thing is that a panel has been [appointed] to study the problem for a long term solution. Before we do any solution we have to know what the facts are and what the options are. Now with UVa being an integral part of our community much of the effort in encouraging job growth centers on higher end jobs, internet technology, the IT jobs, medical fields, higher education, teaching and administration and so on, but as part of the discussion we have to include in the education package the education of the lower end jobs, the tradesmen, the teachers the home tutors, the continuing education requirements.
I would include in any community outreach that affects community education I would include in that group the Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center (CATEC) on Rio Road, the senior center education centers, the senior center education efforts, pre-k education advocates and GED certification centers, so that we have a community approach to education and I think when we do that we will have a better handle on how the funding is going to shake out.
Kristin Szakos (D-Charlottesville) * Incumbent
The most important step that we need to take is to find a sustainable funding stream. We have now a percentage of new property tax revenue that goes to the school. And that worked well when property tax revenue was always growing. It doesn’t work well in years like the past several years we’ve had when it is not. It also doesn’t really make up for the fact that we have lost so much state and federal funding. We have right now a Blue Ribbon Commission that is looking at some possible solutions, so there are things in my head that would be possibilities but I’d really like to like to wait to see what they come up with. We’ve got some really smart people in that room and I’d like to see what they come up with.
But I think increased funding is definitely going to be needed, just because we’ve lost funding, and it’s got to come from somewhere. Our city values its schools. Some people have talked about closing an elementary school and several years ago when that was floated to the public the response was overwhelming that people did not want bigger elementary schools. They didn’t want their kids travelling further to an elementary school. They really like those small neighborhood schools, but they are expensive. So we have to look at what that costs us as a city. We have talked about the desirability of closing Walker and consolidating middle school at Buford, but that is going to cost money because we have to retrofit Buford to be able to fit those extra students, we don’t have the money. So whatever we do, even to save money, by closing either Walker or an elementary school, is going to cost money. So we need to figure out how to get that in a predictable and sustainable way for our schools….
City council provides the funding to the school board. The school board by law has the constitutional powers to spend it where they see fit. The power of city council to help the school board do their job, that they are elected to do, that they have the expertise to do, is very limited. What I can do is challenge them to think differently….
[The first thing] is to make sure that the money that is given to them is in fact getting into the classroom, that they are wringing out the inefficiencies and overhead that may or may not be necessary. Admittedly, we’ve got a somewhat of a different class of clientele in the schools so we have to have some programs to support them. I get all that. I get that we are not the county. The county has 15 percent free and reduced lunch population and we’ve got closer to 45 or 50 percent. That’s a problem for us and we have to deal with that. The school board has a tough job to do, but they are the ones with the constitutional authority to do it.
But the money in the classroom idea is really just an efficiency issue. It doesn’t get to whether or not the schools are actually performing up to what they should. I think our focus really ought to be on making sure that every kid that’s in school learns and can achieve up to grade level so that when they graduate from high school they are in fact ready for college….