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City School Board digs into ‘difficult’ budget

Much of the expected new spending for Charlottesville City Schools next fiscal year will go toward staff raises and rising overhead costs.

Charlottesville School Board members got their first in-depth look at the preliminary funding request during a Saturday work session. The division is expected to spend an additional $5 million, most of which will have to come from City Council.

The division is currently operating on an $88 million budget. While other divisions in the state are expecting large increases from Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget, changes in the Local Composite Index — the formula the determines of state education dollars are doled out — essentially negate the increase for Charlottesville.

Schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins estimates the division will need an additional $4.6 million from City Council. Last year, City Council transferred $57.3 million to the division. Nearly half of the new spending is slated to pay for health insurance costs, city contracts and other non-discretionary items.

“You see that non-discretionary area and it’s $2.5. million. That, to me, is a very difficult budget,” Atkins told board members at the end of the work session. “That really does cause stress.”

She added that with money tied up in non-discretionary items, she can’t fund more requests from principals to support individual schools.

The budget is still in flux. The School Board and City Council will discuss the budget during a joint meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center.

Atkins’s funding request, which will be formally presented Feb. 6, currently includes $1.98 million to give teachers a 3% raise and to give support staff members and administrators an average 2% raise.

Board members said Saturday that they wanted to give all staff an average 3% raise, which would cost an additional $200,000.

A number of budget items go toward hiring more staff to support English Language Learners and boosting staffing and supplies in certain electives as student enrollment grows.

The division also is eyeing an increase in substitute teacher pay and investing in other ideas to alleviate the substitute shortage.

Historically, the division historically has not compiled a full budget document until after its adoption. Saturday’s work session focused on new expenses in the funding request.

The proposed budget also calls for a reduction of six teaching and instructional assistant positions at the elementary level, due to changes in elementary enrollment.

Meanwhile, the division is budgeting for a 15% increase in health insurance that would cost $1.1 million.

TransportationAdditionally, the division’s contracts with city to cover for student transportation and school maintenance are significantly increasing. Previously, the contracts have gone up by about 3%, but for next fiscal year, the contract for transportation services is going up by $358,006 — nearly 13% — from $2,805,299.

Atkins said that increase does not provide full-time benefits for drivers who work less than 40 hours a week. It does cover new buses and a van and the associated costs to transport students with special needs.

“Our goal is to work toward getting benefits for our bus drivers,” she said.

Atkins said benefits would help retain more drivers and alleviate overcrowding on the buses. Currently, the city employs 14 drivers; ideal staffing would be 28 drivers. Providing full-time benefits to 28 drivers would cost about $570,000.

“I think this board would really like to support them with benefits,” school board chairwoman Jennifer McKeever said. “We’re fine with increases in our city contracts. That’s not a problem. But we really want it to affect positively the people who are working with our kids everyday.”

Atkins said the city transportation department is working to hire more drivers.

“But we’ve got to do those things that are necessary that our surrounding competitors are doing in order to hire those drivers,” she said.

In Albemarle County, bus drivers qualify for benefits and retirement after driving six hours a day.


In a bid to shore up the supply of substitute teachers, Atkins is proposing a bump in the day rate for substitutes from $91 to $105. Albemarle County pays substitutes $85 a day.

“That’s not all we need to do with substitutes,” Atkins said.

In recent weeks, she has meet with teachers from throughout the division to discuss the issue and brainstorm solutions.

The group discussed the quality of lesson plans left for substitutes, how they’re welcomed into the building and absences among teachers. Those in the meeting suggested paying teachers who asked to cover classes when a substitute is not available.

“Compensation would make them feel that somebody recognizes what they are doing,” she said.

Atkins said she’ll have an updated budget line that includes additional substitute incentives by the Tuesday meeting.

“We realize that addressing these multi-layered issues will not be a central office effort alone,” she said.

Those who fill in as food service workers, custodians or office secretaries would see a raise from $9.75 an hour to $13 as part of a separate budget proposal.

Walker electives

When Walker Upper Elementary gave students more choice in their electives, the school did so without additional funding.

This school year, enrollment in the school’s fine arts programs — art, band, orchestra and choir — more than doubled, and the preliminary request includes $176,800 to support that growth.

“The current instructional supplies budget is not enough to sustain these programs,” division staff members wrote in a budget proposal.

Money would go toward more pre-engineering and art supplies, new tables for the art classroom and hiring a part-time orchestra teacher. One full-time teacher and an hourly assistant are responsible for the school’s orchestra program, which has 196 students.

About $20,000 of that money would pay for instrument repair and maintenance and cover the cost of waiving the instrument rental fee for students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. So far this school year, $19,800 has been waived, more than three times the amount from last year.

To prepare for Walker students moving up to Buford, the middle school asked for an additional engineering teacher. About 200 sixth-graders are taking pre-engineering at Walker this year, which will push the capacity of the Buford’s current engineering teacher who teaches seven out of eight classes.

The School Board will hold another budget work session Feb. 11, adopt the funding request Feb. 20 and present it to City Council on March 2.


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