Albemarle school board begins cuts & other school news

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors last week adopted a tax rate of 79.9 cents per $100 of assessed real estate value—a increase over the previous rate of 76.6 cents—but even with the hike, the county schools are $3.9 million short of their $164.3 million funding request. 

To reach a balanced budget, the Albemarle County School Board last week voted to increase class size averages, reduce the salary increases it had budgeted for staff, and cut discretionary funds for all schools and departments by five percent. The votes taken last week were not final, and the board has until April 24 to adopt a budget.

The board voted 4-3 in favor of increasing class size averages by 0.2 students. Eric Strucko, Jason Buyaki, and Ned Gallaway voted against the motion.

Albemarle Spokesman Phil Giaramita said the increase would impact between eight and nine full-time equivalent positions, but that it is unlikely any individuals would be let go immediately.

“It’s more likely to impact a teacher who would go from full- to part-time,” Giaramita said. However, Giaramita added, 77 teachers have already received Reduction in Force letters, and some of those might not be called back this summer.

Historically, the division distributes about 80 RIF letters per year. Then, as enrollment numbers firm up over the summer, most of those teachers are given contracts.

The board also voted unanimously to reduce the 2 percent raise it had budgeted for staff to 1 percent, which saves $1.1 million.

Additionally, the board voted 4-3 to cut discretionary budgets for all schools and departments by five percent. Pam Moynihan, Kate Acuff, and Steve Koleszar voted against the motion.

Other reductions included initiatives like interpretation services, a move to paperless evaluations, and restorations to the learning resources, professional development, and athletics budgets. The board also voted to remove $289,754 for the Bright Stars pre-K program from its budget.

Another $125,000 earmarked for lab renovations for Western Albemarle High School’s new Environmental Sciences Academy survived the chopping block, as did $137,132 and two full-time equivalents to grow the world languages pilot at Cale Elementary School.

The school board will meet next on April 24.

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Albemarle High School to offer artistic focus

Albemarle High School will soon offer its students a new way to organize some of their courses.

Beginning this fall, what school officials are calling a Fine Arts Pathway will allow incoming freshman and rising sophomores the opportunity to focus their high school electives in the fine and performing arts.

Within the pathway, students can choose from eight strands, or areas of focus: art, ceramics, photography, band, orchestra, chorus, creative writing, and theater.

Each strand is composed of five traditional classroom courses, but the program will also require students to take their passions outside of the school building.

In 10th grade, students will complete 10 hours of a community learning experience, where students will shadow someone in a career that relates to his or her focus.

Albemarle is hoping these community learning projects lead to the internships students will have to complete in 11th grade.

Additionally, students will have to present a 12th grade capstone project that wraps up their four years in the program.

Albemarle is estimating that about 75 students will participate in the program next year, and the pathway will only be available to Albemarle High School students.

Principal Jay Thomas said he’s shared the model with the other high schools, who are welcome to implement it.

“I’m trying to get away from the ‘One school has this, and one has that’ idea,” he said.

Thomas said the variety of academies now being offered, and the quality of the fine and performing arts program at AHS sparked the idea. Students who simply want to take one of the courses, but not pursue the entire pathway are welcome too.

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