City Councilors Bob Fenwick and Kristin Szakos (not pictured), and Charlottesville School Board Chair Juandiego Wade ate breakfast at Burnley-Moran Elementary School last week to celebrate National Breakfast Week with the students

The Charlottesville School Board last week discussed changing school start times for the 2014-15 school year so the elementary school day would begin before the middle school day. Under the proposal, students in grades pre-K through four would start school at 7:50 am, rather than at 8:30 a.m., and fifth through eighth grades would start at 8:20 a.m. instead of 7:40 a.m. 

The thinking behind the switch, Assistant Superintendent James Henderson said, stems from community feedback, increased traffic in the City, and research that shows that adolescents benefit from the additional sleep that a later school start time allows. In Albemarle County, grades 6-12 have long started classes around 9 a.m., the time that Charlottesville High School begins each day. 

Adjusting start times, however, would also shift bus pick-up times, which worried some. Board member Leah Puryear questioned the division’s youngest students standing at bus stops for what could be a 7:05 a.m. pick-up.  

Board member Colette Blount said the change could create financial hardship for parents who might have to leave work early to be home with younger children. “We should do nothing in our decision making that would then go outside of our boundaries and change a household’s finances that way,” Blount said.

The Board will take additional input at the March 24 town hall meeting at Charlottesville High School.

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Charlottesville considers weighted electives 

At the request of Charlottesville High School Principal Jill Dahl, the Charlottesville School Board last week considered weighting eight courses that currently do not provide students with the opportunity to earn honors-level credit. In addition to parent, student, and teacher feedback, the rationale for the proposal, Dahl said, was that the courses’ difficulty exceeded the current level of credit the division’s point system assigns them. “Some of our elective classes are quite rigorous and require time outside of school, and some they have to audition for, so it’s not easy,” Dahl said. 

The courses under consideration include: orchestra string ensemble, wind ensemble, C-Ville Players III, technical theater III, Charlottesville Singers, commercial photography II, studio art, and economics and personal finance.

Additionally, Dahl said, many gifted students “shy away” from unweighted electives because they don’t contribute as much to grade point averages. A grade of ‘A’ in an unweighted course earns four quality points under the current system. If adopted, the same grade in a weighted course would earn 4.5 quality points.  

“This is absolutely the right thing to do,” Board member Ned Michie said, echoing Dahl’s message that the lack of weighting has discouraged some students from taking arts classes.  “We think the fine arts are very important in our city and school system, and I think it makes great sense.”

The Board requested more information about how the state-mandated economics and personal finance course could be made challenging enough to warrant honors-level credit. A decision on all of the courses will be made at a future meeting.

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Supe’s tax rate could lessen schools’ gap

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors last week voted to advertise a tax rate of 80.8 cents per $100 of assessed real estate value. This is 2.5 cents more than County Executive Tom Foley originally proposed, and is 4.2 cents higher than the current rate of 76.6 cents. If adopted, revenues from the tax hike would deliver as much as $3.4 million to the Schools, which are currently facing a $5.8 million funding gap. The Schools would then face a $2.4 million shortfall.

Within the 2.5 cents, 1.8 cents is dedicated to the schools, and 0.7 cents is set to be split using the County’s funding formula that divides revenue between the schools, local government, and the capital improvement budget.

With the rate advertised, the Supervisors can lower the tax rate before adopting the budget, but cannot increase it. On Tuesday, April 8, the Supervisors will hold a public hearing on the proposed tax rate and the proposed budget. Additionally, the Supervisors will be hosting numerous town hall meetings before they adopt a final budget on April 15. The next budget work session is on March 12.