In Albemarle, both the Board of Supervisors and School Board agree that expanding Bright Stars—the County’s pre-k program for at-risk youth—can pay positive dividends; the question is which body will take the first step.
“The real issue here is a question about whose job it is,” Albemarle School Board Chair Steve Koleszar told the Board of Supervisors Wednesday. “From my perspective, it’s a County decision about whether you want to go ahead with it or not.”
“If you decide that you want to do it,” Koleszar added, “we’ll make it work.”
But Supervisor Ann Mallek said the body can’t make that decision until the School Board provides more information about projected program costs and school capacities.
“The Board of Supervisors, on our side of the strategic discussion, held back on that because I got a real strong pushback from the school people,” Mallek said. “I think I need to know how many zeros we’re talking about, and then we might know how much we might be able to accomplish.”
Bright Stars provides comprehensive social services for preschoolers and their families until the child completes 5th grade.
In addition to the preschool program, Bright Stars provides Family Coordinators who address a family’s employment and financial issues. They also involve family members in the school community and teach parents how to support their child’s learning.
Last year, the program served 155 4-year-olds at eight elementary schools.
The prospect of expansion arose from steady increases of waitlisted families, which recently was as high as 86.
With respect to funding, Koleszar said that the School Board supports Bright Stars, but has yet to take a position on whether or not they want to spend more from their own budget.
“Our Board position is that we’re willing to [expand Bright Stars], but that has a different funding stream from K-12 education,” Koleszar said.
“We, of course, have really embraced having those students there, and so there’s all of these in-kind kinds of things that don’t get counted in the cost of the program,” Koleszar added, citing art and music teachers, transportation, and principals. “But the actual funding for the expansion of adding the classroom teachers and the home workers has come from a different stream.”
Currently the Bright Stars program is funded by money from the schools, County government, and the Virginia Preschool Initiative.
Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker asked if the school division had the extra space to house the students.
“We were told it was a building capacity issue, and if that’s not the case, we need to know this,” Rooker said.
Koleszar said that while the division has a few capacity-constrained schools, they could handle the extra students.
“If the decision is made that we want to find seats and have classes for those 85 kids, we can work those facilities out,” Koleszar said. “It may mean that we have to put a trailer or two there.”
County Executive Tom Foley said that he will meet with school officials to generate a report containing the requested information.