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City Schools trim funding request by nearly $700k

Prioritizing staff salaries, equity and literacy, the Charlottesville School Board signed off Tuesday on $696,000 in proposed cuts to its funding request for next fiscal year, but were resistant to further reductions.

The School Board now expects to ask for $3.8 million more from City Council compared to its current operating budget, but city staff have said in recent work sessions that they don’t have the money to grant that request.

“What I was hearing Thursday night was that we’ve asked for $4.5 million, and they have put in their budget $2.1 million,” schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins said Tuesday, referring to the council’s budget meeting last week. “ … I don’t know where I could cut $2 million.”

Atkins missed last Thursday’s School Board meeting to attend the city budget session and said she is continuing to discuss the issue with city staff.

The School Board will vote on its funding request Feb. 20.

Last year, City Council transferred $57.3 million to the division. A change in the Local Composite Index — an equation that determines a locality’s ability to contribute to its own schools — means less state funding for the division, which is operating on an $88 million budget this fiscal year.

Historically, the city has given the schools at least 40% of new real estate tax revenue, or $2.1 million for next fiscal year.

The schools’ request includes more than $4 million in additional expenses compared to the current budget. Much of that is going toward a 3% raise for division staff and other non-discretionary cost increases, such as an extra $1.1 million for health insurance.

The School Board went back and forth over a list of reductions proposed by Atkins. Initially, she recommended trimming the request by $768,191 — $400,000 of which would come from the current budget.

“With the changes to the FY 21 budget, there’s no other place for us to cut,” Atkins said.

However, board members wanted to fund an additional literacy coach — a new position in the funding request year to support teachers — and not make cuts to another pot of money that goes to schools to pay for after-school tutoring and other academic support.

“Where we are now, I do think we are going to have to cut, and I think we have to go back to City Council showing a good faith effort to do that as part of maintaining our long-term relationship with them and maintaining their support for us,” board member Sherry Kraft said.

Halfway through the work session, board members were making calculations on their phones and on a dry erase board to figure out which reductions to make and the associated costs.

Atkins’ funding request presented last week included money to hire three literacy coaches who would support the elementary schools. On Tuesday, she recommended hiring two and rethinking the role of reading specialists in the schools. Every elementary school except Venable Elementary has two reading specialists.

“I would be really curious and I would hope that we could look at some other things besides literacy and see if we can’t delay some of these other positions and maintain that because literacy is the crux,” board member Lisa Larson-Torres said.

School Board chairwoman Jennifer McKeever suggested not hiring an iSTEM teacher for next fiscal year, delaying a planned expansion of that program at the elementary level.

Those changes added up to $696,000 in cuts to the funding request.

Last week, Mayor Nikuyah Walker said at the council’s budget work session that the raises for city and school division staff should be on the same level as those proposed for city staff. The city is weighing a 2% raise currently.

Atkins said she felt strongly about giving employees a 3% raise, a proposal that would cost $1.7 million.

“Whether people accept it or not, there is more diversity in urban settings,” she said. “There are more challenges in an urban setting in our public school systems, and that is no different in Charlottesville. Our students have needs, and we need to be able to provide all those needs and provide the supports that are necessary for teachers in order to be able to attract and retain the best and the brightest teachers in our school system.”


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