US Olympian Alice Schmidt, who ran in the Beijing and London games, visited Greer Elementary to teach students about the importance of physical fitness.

Parents, teachers, and principals packed Lane Auditorium last week to say they value small class sizes and innovative teaching. The comments came during a public hearing on the Albemarle County Schools superintendent’s $164.28 million funding request. The budget request to the School Board represents a six percent jump from last year’s $155.3 million, and comes on the heels of an estimated $6.76 million shortfall for this coming year.

Meriwether Lewis Elementary School teacher Anne Geraty said Albemarle’s small class sizes allow teachers to form the bonds with children that allow for high-quality instruction. Sutherland Middle School Principal David Rodgers fears how significant cuts could hurt innovation within the division, citing how student interest in 3D printing at Sutherland is growing.  

Cale Elementary School Principal Lisa Jones said the division shouldn’t cut the school’s dual language pilot program. Cale parent Kelley Tobler said her daughter is benefiting from the program, and that being bilingual will set her up for success in her life. Cale parent Maria Jiminez Sanchez said the Latino community needs translation and interpretation services to know what’s going on with their children at school.

Woodbrook Elementary School Principal Lisa Molinaro, whose school has a 54 percent poverty rate, said cuts to her staffing would drastically hurt learning at Woodbrook because she would be forced to cut instructional assistants.

But not all in attendance supported the funding request. Parent Mike Basile said families can’t afford to pay the higher taxes to fill the budget shortfall, and questioned Albemarle’s decision to send technology home with students.

The School Board will meet again on Thursday, February 6.

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School Funding Commission predicts $2 to $4 million shortfall

The Blue Ribbon Commission—a 13-member citizen panel charged with tackling the City schools’ funding woes—predicted a $2 to $4 million funding gap last week during its final report to Charlottesville’s City Council and School Board.

The report features near- and long-term “action alternatives” local officials could adopt to stem the division’s recent budget shortfalls. Those action alternatives range from upping the meals, real estate, or lodging taxes, to boosting the amount of middle-income housing, to closing an elementary school.

Three of the Commission’s five near-term action alternatives are tax increases, but newly elected City Councilor Bob Fenwick said Charlottesville’s moderate tax rate gives the community a competitive advantage, noting that higher taxes could encourage people to move to surrounding localities, rather than Charlottesville. City Councilor Kathy Galvin said that people and business are concerned with taxes, but added that a strong local economy depends on strong public schools, which attract talent. City Councilor Dede Smith said that raising real estate taxes could impact the most vulnerable renters, and landlords pass new costs on.

One of the findings suggested growing the amount of middle-income housing in the City. City Councilor Kristin Szakos said that the new development along West Main Street might open up houses once rented by students to families.

Smith also questioned the school division’s high staffing levels, but Commission members noted the School’s diverse student population, which requires numerous intervention and remediation services.

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SOL reform on the table in Richmond

If Delegates Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria) and Thomas A. “Tag” Greason (R-Loudoun) get their way, Charlottesville and Albemarle students might be taking fewer Standards of Learning exams in the coming years. The pair has introduced House Bill 498, which proposes dropping the total number of SOL tests across the Commonwealth from 34 to 26, and permitting local school divisions to use end-of-year tests other than the SOL for some subject areas.

The reduction in tests would appear mostly at the elementary and middle school levels, and would focus the remaining exams on reading and mathematics. The legislation also states that, if adopted, the Virginia Board of Education will create plans for divisions that want to implement assessments other than the SOL tests for history, science, and social science exams.

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