Credit: Credit: Charlottesville City Schools

In an era of dwindling public coffers, many school divisions are left with a catch-22: cut teachers to save money and hurt classrooms now, or slash supplementary programs that are costly but advantageous for long-term success.

In an attempt to alleviate local schools from some of those decisions, the Public Education Foundation of Charlottesville-Albemarle, a grant-making organization founded in 2004, is rebranding, restructuring, and ramping up its fundraising efforts.

“In this day and age, when dollars are so tight for public education funding, this is a way that we can do some of the work that our two school systems couldn’t afford otherwise,” Albemarle School Board member Diantha McKeel said.

Atop PEF’s list is to hire a full-time director who can more actively connect with community members and fundraise for the four new funds the non-profit has created.

Albemarle and Charlottesville will each have a dedicated fund, and the Vision Fund will house operating costs.

But what excites many is the shared resource of the Innovation Fund, which will offer teachers increased professional development opportunities.

“We live in a community with such great educational resources,” PEF President Lisa Ross Moorefield said, “that there should be a sharing of the intelligence that helps teachers plan for how they are going to look at the future of technology and best-practices to advance curriculum.”

“And frankly I think that’s one of the strengths,” Moorefield added. “It’s a vehicle where both systems can work together, whether it’s from a strategic perspective or for a teacher to get a grant to work with industry or a non-profit and bring that information they learn back to the classroom.”

“It’s a smart partnership,” Charlottesville School Board member Willa Neale said, “because if a teacher in Charlottesville comes up with a great idea, we should share that with Albemarle.”

One initiative Charlottesville would like to steer additional funding toward is its ongoing STEM lab construction.

Earlier this year, City Council allocated $3 million for two projects, which include the conversion of Charlottesville High School’s Media Center into an advanced manufacturing lab, and the modernization of four science classrooms at Buford Middle School.

“The STEM Lab at Buford funding [allocated by City Council] is for the bricks and mortar, but it doesn’t completely roll everything out for advanced manufacturing,” Assistant Superintendent James Henderson said. “We’re not close to putting the equipment in there because the price tag is very high.”

“That’s not going to keep the labs from running because we’re going to have other sciences and engineering courses in the labs,” Henderson added, “but it’s something we’re looking for separate funding for.”

In Albemarle, Assistant Superintendent Matt Haas said, funding world languages at the elementary school level sounds easy, but comes with a cost that can balloon into the millions, noting the addition would require finding qualified teachers and a program coordinator, and could even affect the length of the school day.

In addition to specific projects, the PEF appears to be the next vehicle for collaboration between the two school divisions.

“We see this as an opportunity because it gives us the chance to gain more common ground,” Albemarle Superintendent Pam Moran said.

Charlottesville School Board member Ned Michie said the PEF adds to the list of Charlottesville-Albemarle partnerships, which include CATEC and the Piedmont Regional Education Program, as well as regular meetings between the two superintendents.

Additionally, both Michie and Albemarle School Board chair Steve Koleszar said, the PEF will allow both divisions to strengthen outreach efforts to alumni.

Community members will also have the option of donating general funds to a specific school, division, or program.

“Right now if someone from the community wants to donate money to Albemarle High School,” McKeel said, “they contact AHS, mail a check, and it works its way to the School Board, then back through the system.”

“With donations through the foundation, it’s easier for donors and cuts costs in the division because it reduces bureaucratic and administrative tasks,” McKeel added.

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