Albemarle School Board advances superintendent’s funding request & other school news

The Albemarle County School Board last week voted 6-1 to send a $ million funding request to the Board of Supervisors. This funding request exceeds anticipated revenues by $ million. Despite the decision to forward the request to the Board of Supervisors, the School Board is expecting to make cuts and will now begin to debate where they could reduce expenditures that will have the smallest impact on classroom instruction. 

School Board Chair Ned Gallaway said it’s hard to prioritize what cuts the division could make until the revenue picture is clearer. Board member Jason Buyaki voted against the motion, arguing that the division is educating students well during tough economic times, and that “the budget should reflect the times that we live in.” 

One potential cost-saving area the division examined is increasing average class sizes. The largest concern, Albemarle Assistant Superintendent Billy Haun said, is that as class sizes rise at the elementary level, there are fewer teachers available to provide intervention and remediation instruction for struggling students. 

Nearly 30 swim and dive athletes, parents, and coaches turned out to oppose cutting the $29,000 per year program that was listed as a potential area of savings. The Board decided that swim and dive should not be singled out. Additionally, the Board requested a breakdown of the entire athletics budget.

Albemarle School Board weighs pre-k funding

Albemarle County School Board member Pam Moynihan wants to know why the Board of Supervisors is relying on the Schools to pay for a portion of Bright Stars, the County’s preschool program for at-risk youth. While Moynihan said that she supports high-quality preschool experiences for all children, the School Board is being forced to choose between serving students it’s mandated to, and those it’s not.

“My concern is that in a budget year in which we’re considering having to increase class sizes for the population that we are required to serve as a school division K-12, I’m just hesitant to continue preschool programs where that’s not necessarily that population that we are required to serve,” Moynihan said.

But Moynihan’s point was met with pushback. School Board member Kate Acuff said that investments in pre-k often reduce the amount of intervention and remediation school divisions need to provide in K-12. Albemarle Assistant Superintendent Billy Haun said that investments in pre-k show up as savings in many different ways over the course of a student’s career.

Currently, the Schools send about $290,000 to Albemarle’s Department of Social Services, which administers the program. The School Board agreed to ask the Board of Supervisors to fully fund Bright Stars in a letter accompanying the division’s funding request. The School Board will finalize their funding request on Thursday, February 13.

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City School Board questions budget requests

Tuition increases, a new instructional coaching model, and schoolyard gardens topped the Charlottesville School Board’s $68 million budget discussion last week. This year’s proposed budget is about a $3 million increase from last year.

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.

The Board also addressed the City Schoolyard Garden’s request for an additional $25,000 to support a garden educator position at Buford Middle School. 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. Board members were split over raising the fee by 10 percent immediately, or staggering it over two years. The Charlottesville City School Board will meet on February 19 at CATEC.

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