The two candidates vying for the White Hall District seat on the Albemarle County School Board stated their positions on a variety of education issues Wednesday.
The forum, held at Henley Middle School, was the final in a series co-hosted by Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress.
“Children are our greatest resource,” said Caroll “C.J.” Hatcher, a former teacher and member of Albemarle’s Long Range Planning Advisory Committee. “But they’re only going to be successful if they have a quality education.”
Opposing Hatcher is David Oberg, an attorney with the Charlottesville-based firm Jones & Green who formerly directed Blue Ridge UniServ — an organization that aims to support local education associations.
Oberg said he will challenge the public to engage their state representatives in the face of the $6.4 million budget gap the School Board is anticipating for the coming fiscal year.
“We’re educating our children with $600 less per student than we did in 2009,” Oberg said. “I would tell the parents and public to get on the General Assembly … and get them to fund education the way they said they would.”
Hatcher said more belt-tightening might be in order.
“We need to be more judicious in our spending because we might not be getting any more money,” Hatcher said. “Let’s review projects and throw out the ones that are no longer … doing what they were designed to do in the first place.”
With respect to an expansion of the elementary world language program, both candidates said they would not support the initiative.
“The funding is just not there,” Hatcher said, noting that schools such as Greer Elementary, whose student body includes more than 20 native languages, would be challenged to choose a language the community agrees upon.
Oberg said that while he supports the pilot currently running at Cale Elementary, the division doesn’t have the middle and high school courses more advanced students would need in place.
Both candidates took aim at the state-mandated Standards of Learning tests.
“It’s become more and more egregious,” Oberg said. “I don’t think they’re an effective measure.”
“I do not think the SOLs should be our only form of measurement,” Hatcher said. “It’s not fair to evaluate the student, teacher and school based on one test.”
Earlier this week Albemarle’s Redistricting Advisory Committee advanced its redistricting recommendations to Superintendent Pam Moran. Hatcher said recent redistricting efforts have been attempts at “putting Band-Aids on the problem.”
“We need to look into alternative ways to fund things, whether it be bond referendums or whatever,” Hatcher said.
Oberg said Albemarle’s capacity issues were preventable.
“When the economy tanked and there was no work, we could have built a new school back then and saved a lot of money,” Oberg said. “We knew six years ago that the growth was happening.”
Early childhood education in Albemarle is currently shared between local government and the schools, with local government providing the majority of the funding and oversight, and the schools contributing classroom space.
Oberg said he’d prefer to see universal preschool, citing the impact early childhood education has on literacy development. While some families equip their children with those skills, not all families have that opportunity, he said.
Hatcher said she supports Bright Stars — Albemarle’s pre-k program for at-risk youth — but not an expansion.
“I do not think we are ready or should even consider universal pre-k,” Hatcher said. “We’ve got to remember that learning begins with the family.”
Five of the seven seats on the Albemarle School Board will be on ballots on Election Day, Nov. 3. Steve Koleszar and Jason Buyaki, who hold the Scottsville and Rivanna District seats, respectively, are running unopposed.