Charlottesville City Schools and the City of Charlottesville have yet to figure out how they’re going to pay to own Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center.
After months of deliberation, Charlottesville City Schools will be the sole owner of the CATEC, buying out Albemarle County Public Schools, come 2024.
The city is buying the school for $5.4 million and will have five years to pay the balance, on top of paying its share of operational costs after they take ownership in July 2024. The two school districts share the responsibility of paying for the school with adult student tuition, state funding and other funding sources. Those operational costs total almost $2.8 million a year, which is currently split between the districts. City Schools’ full annual budget is around $100 million.
Under the previous agreement, money each school system pays to fund the technical school is respective to the number of attending students. Albemarle pays roughly $2 million each year, according to CATEC’s most recent joint board meeting documents. The city pays less than $700,000 a year for its share.
As City Schools receives the bulk of its funding from the city of Charlottesville, they are now tasked with funding the school, said Vice Mayor Juandiego Wade. And they don’t yet know how they’ll do it, said Kim Powell, chief operations officer for Charlottesville schools.
“The decision came pretty quickly so we couldn’t iron out all the details, but if you get an opportunity you got to take advantage of it,” said the vice mayor.
The funding and program details are still in the early days of deliberation. If the city can’t afford to fully fund the school, it might have to rearrange or cut positions to make ends meet, according to an employee from CATEC, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she is not directly involved in the process.
Albemarle students comprise 80% of the student body at CATEC, with 295 students attending compared with 67 Charlottesville students. As of now, both city and county high school students attend the school free of charge.
Under the joint operating agreement between Charlottesville and Albemarle, when a partner makes a bid to purchase the other’s share of the school, the other must either sell their share for the appraised value or buy the school completely.
Members of Albemarle County School Board declined to comment about City Schools’ acquisition.
“We’re not talking to the press at this moment,” said Ellen Osbourne, Albemarle school board member and chair of CATEC Center Board.
Albemarle schools first made a move to purchase CATEC last summer. Charlottesville schools were concerned about what that would mean for its students at the school, said Powell. In the conversations that followed the first announcement, City Schools said that the county did not provide thorough information on the access city students would have to the school if Albemarle owned it.
In its original proposal, Albemarle would continue to allow Charlottesville students to attend at no cost for the next three years. After that, city students would have to pay half the amount of tuition up until 2034, and then the Albemarle County school board would discuss what to charge city students.
The county started the process to terminate the partnership between the two schools two days before the winter recess. Charlottesville had 60 days to accept or buy the school at the final $5.5 million.
“In the absence of those details, it was hard to know what the future would hold for the Charlottesville City students,” said Powell.
Hopefully, that won’t be the case when Charlottesville schools are under control. The new ownership is expected to be a smooth transition for everyone involved, Powell said. Transition planning has already started, said spokespeople from both school districts.
“We’ll be interested in seeing what those plans are,” said Phil Giaramita, spokesman for Albemarle County Public Schools.
There are a number of advantages that come with having a single owner, said Giaramita. Decisions can be made quicker, therefore changes made in the school are swifter than ones that would require a second party.
Albemarle initially made the bid in hopes of doing major renovations and updates to the campus. The county wanted to modernize the facilities and potentially expand it. The county also planned to widen the curriculum in a move to add more programs and more room for both city and county students to attend. The developments were something the county could afford, but the city has not yet allocated funding for.
The city is looking to create partnerships with Piedmont Virginia Community College and the University of Virginia in an effort to expand programs offered to CATEC students, Mayor Lloyd Snook told Charlottesville Tomorrow.
Capacity at the county high schools was also a factor in Albemarle’s decision. All three high schools in the division are overcrowded, Giaramita stated, and the expansions at CATEC would have aided in redistributing the students.
Charlottesville’s focus, however, will be in maintaining the technical school as a regional resource.
“Whatever we do, the important thing is to plan — that we can be prepared for CATEC to continue as a regional resource, regardless of what Albemarle decides is best to do for their students,” said Powell.