Technology drives Charlottesville Schools budget talks

In the current education landscape, technology is more than computers and projectors.

Jeff Faust, director of technology for Charlottesville City Schools, explained the challenges to the School Board during a budget work session Saturday.

“We tend to simplify that in our minds,” Faust said. “But our entire phone system … HVAC system, all are things that run through technology.”

To date, the School Board expects to ask the City Council for about $48.2 million, which is about $2.6 million — or approximately 5 percent — more than it received last year.

During the talks, Faust was responding to recent comments from board members who questioned the amount the division is spending on technology, as well as its role in the classroom.

Last year Charlottesville spent $3.3 million — or percent of its total budget — on technology. In 2010, that figure was $2.8 million, or percent of its budget. In 2012, technology spending spiked at $4.1 million because the division rolled out its one-to-one technology initiative, which provides computers to all students in grades six through 12.

The board agreed to hire an applications developer, who will help manage the division’s numerous business and student systems. Including benefits, officials originally estimated that position would have added $137,196 to the division’s books.

However, many board members balked at the figure, and asked Faust to get the entire compensation package below $120,000.

“We’ve grown from 1,000 devices on the network to 4,000 devices on the network,” Faust said, noting that the current level of information technology staffing is forcing the department to be reactive to problems, rather than proactively addressing them, and that this individual would alleviate those pressures.

“We need someone who can manage our data center and our servers,” Faust said.

But School Board member Colette Blount wasn’t sold on the idea.

“Not that we don’t want to be ahead of the curve … but since I’ve been in education, this field has grown exponentially,” Blount said. “I’m concerned that this area is so huge that it drives our whole division.”

With respect to devices at the high school level, schools officials said many students prefer to bring their own devices.

“We found about 25 percent of students are bringing their own device now,” Faust said. “And the high school wants that to continue in the next one-to-one deployment, as well.”

That would allow the division to purchase the same amount of devices in its next deployment, and reallocate those not used by high school students to the younger grades, Faust said.

Superintendent Rosa Atkins said the use of technology in the classroom has grown so much that Faust’s team had to up the division’s bandwidth.

“Often, it is in response to what teachers want to do differently or how they want to present instructional material,” Faust said.

But Blount said that while she supports technology spending, she wants staff to ensure that all students are getting the basics of what they need for the purposes of equity and parity throughout the division.

School Board member Jennifer McKeever asked how much of recent technology spending is the result of the state-mandated Standards of Learning tests.

Faust said that it contributed “a fair amount” as the state requires that the tests be taken online, but he also said instruction is changing now and is driving a significant amount of the change.

McKeever also underscored the importance of spending face-to-face time with students, especially in the elementary years.

Gertrude Ivory, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, agreed, but pointed to how times are changing.

“That’s the way of the world,” Ivory said. “All of us use technology in our daily lives more than we ever have before.”

With respect to compensation, staff initially recommended that all eligible staff receive a step plus 1 percent salary increase, for a total percent raise for most staff. The board reached consensus to move eligible staff up one step in the division’s pay table — which comes with a $681,187 price tag — but hesitated to add the additional 1 percent increase.

The hesitation resulted from some board members’ concern that some school division employees don’t earn a “living wage.” Ultimately, the board requested more information about how much bringing all staff to a living wage — rather than providing the additional 1 percent raise — would cost.

Ed Gillaspie, the school division’s finance director, estimated doing so would cost about $450,000.

McKeever said she supports the move and would like to see all school employees earn a living wage.

“I’m uncomfortable seeing people in our school division, who see our kids every day, who would be living in poverty even if they were working 40 hours per week,” McKeever said.

“I think that we need to make a statement about this, so the people in this population know that we’re thinking about them,” board member Leah Puryear said.

The board also reached consensus to eliminate one assistant principal position from Buford Middle School, and to add one to Charlottesville High School. The rationale, director of human resources Carole Nelson said, is that many of the assistant principal’s duties at Buford are now being handled by instructional coaches.
Despite that claim, Puryear disagreed with the move, arguing that assistant principals help all of the students.

“Year after year we sit around this table and talk about Buford, and now it’s on a roll and we want to take something away from them,” Puryear said. “Now I’m not saying that the high school doesn’t need something.”

Board member Ned Michie, however, saw the situation differently.

“I support giving it a try,” Michie said, noting that Buford only serves two grades, whereas Charlottesville High serves four.

The board decided not to move forward with a plan to hire a professional development facilitator, who would have helped teachers and staff develop alternative assessments to some SOL tests that have been eliminated.

The board did, however, agree to add a math specialist at Walker Upper Elementary and Buford Middle. Doing so is anticipated to cost $123,348.

The School Board will meet with the City Council at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center, and will hold another budget work session at 5 p.m. Thursday at Charlottesville High School.

Technology Spending in Charlottesville City Schools | Create infographics