Education Beat: County, city schools grapple with budgets

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CHS 11th grader Tianna Washington works at a treadmill desk during class. Marketing teacher Megan Maynard won a grant from the school’s PTO to install treadmills, bikes, and yoga balls in her classroom as a way to promote student health. Photo: Tim Shea CHS 11th grader Tianna Washington works at a treadmill desk during class. Marketing teacher Megan Maynard won a grant from the school’s PTO to install treadmills, bikes, and yoga balls in her classroom as a way to promote student health. Photo: Tim Shea

Albemarle County Public Schools parents and teachers spoke out in support of the school board’s $164.3 million funding request last week before the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. The division is $5.8 million short of what the school board says it needs.

Cale Elementary principal Lisa Jones said failing to fully fund the schools could put innovative programming like early Spanish instruction at risk. Anne Geraty, who teaches at Meriwether Lewis Elementary, also advocated for full funding, and warned against upping class sizes to save money—a move the division is considering to save money.

“It boils down to teachers who are, child by child, building relationships,” Geraty said. “That is simply not possible with large class sizes.”

Not all were in favor of funding the schools’ request in full. County resident Robert Hogue said the county should make cuts, arguing that neighboring localities envy Albemarle’s pay rates.

The School Board is expected to adopt a budget, based upon input from the Board of Supervisors, in April.

The Charlottesville City School Board last week adopted its funding request of $73.2 million—about a four percent jump from last year’s overall budget. The Board hopes $45.8 million of that will come from City Council, which represents about a $1.7 million increase from last year’s ask. The budget proposes a net increase of 5.44 new full-time employees. About one percent of the budget—approximately $500,000—is for new initiatives.

The most significant of those revamps professional development by relocating curriculum and teaching specialists from central office to the schools. The move, which comes with a $93,000 price tag, would cut 6.8 administrative coordinators and add 10 instructional coaches who would work with teachers across the division.

Charlottesville High School teacher Margaret Thornton said the structural change could lead to a lack of continuity. Her own research on the coaching model showed most coaches had 20 to 30 teachers under their purview.

“At CHS, if you assigned two coaches to this school of one-hundred ninety-something teachers, we’d have almost 100 teachers to a coordinator,” Thornton said, “and I think it would become very difficult to have that continuity between grade levels, and we certainly wouldn’t have that continuity between schools.”

School Board member Jennifer McKeever—the budget’s only ‘no’ vote on the professional development move—also expressed concern about the change.

“If we could have everything we want, we could have both,” Superintendent Rosa Atkins said. “But the reality is that the funds and resources we have today don’t allow us to do both.” Charlottesville presented their funding request to City Council on Monday, March 3. City Council is expected to adopt a finalized budget in April.

CHS students stay active during class

Students at Charlottesville High School are walking on treadmills, pedaling small exercise bikes, and sitting on yoga balls while completing coursework. The equipment, awarded to marketing teacher Megan Maynard’s classroom by a grant from the school’s PTO, is aimed at promoting health inside the school day. “It can help with cognition, it can help with focus and concentration, not to mention students who are active learners and like to be moving,” Maynard said.

Eleventh grader Tianna Washington is one of those students. “I like having the pedals because we sit down all day,” Washington said. Eleventh grader Alejandra Cole said she likes using the equipment in class, but also comes to Maynard’s room during lunch. “It’s fun because of the different things you can do,” Cole said. “You’re basically working out when you’re in class.”

Maynard said adults nag youth for only playing video games, but when given opportunities, students jump at chances to be active. “They’ve asked important questions like ‘How many calories have I burned?’ and ‘What does it means that my heart rate is a certain level?’” Maynard said. “Important questions for health.”

Nikki Franklin. Contributed photo.

MEET YOUR EDUCATOR: Nikki Franklin, Kindergarten teacher, Jackson Via Elementary School

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

My most amazing task is meeting standards (local/state/federal), while still maintaining high expectations, cultivating a nurturing yet individualized classroom and helping students develop a lifelong love of learning.

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

To the casual observer this may seem like an effortless job. Yet, I analyze student performance and address specific learning needs daily, hourly, and minute-to-minute.  My decisions directly impact students’ preparedness for future learning experiences.  I serve as a role model, mediator, tutor, cheerleader and sometimes counselor.  I enjoy my job, so difficulties aren’t always apparent.  Few recognize the finely honed skills that are required in the classroom.

Where do you see the teaching field in five years?

The outlook is positive.  As long as all dialog is focused on student success, the future of education is secure.

What outside experience prepared you best to become a teacher?

I’ve been a teacher since I was a young girl.  As the eldest, my performance was the household benchmark.  I helped siblings meet performance goals as their “Big Sister.”  I helped with homework, re-taught skills that I had mastered and provided encouragement.  The challenge was to ensure my siblings’ academic success. Being a “Big Sister” prepared me for teaching.

  • democracy

    Take even a cursory glance at the county schools superintendent’s budget request and it’s apparent that it’s chock full of nonsense.

    http://www2.k12albemarle.org/dept/osp/fiscal/budget/Documents/SBFundReqPres_2014-15_FINAL%20for%20Posting.pdf

    Scroll to page 4, for example and it cites SAT scores of county students. Does the superintendent not know that SAT scores are virtually worthless, predicting almost nothing related to college success? Doesn’t she know that the SAT is merely a measure of family income? And isn’t Albemarle county one of the most affluent in Virginia?

    On that same page the document touts that the county has “40 nationally board certified teachers.” I suppose that’s nice, but there’s very little (if any) relationship between national board certification and student achievement.

    Scroll down to page 7 and there is a “competitive analysis” comparison between Albemarle County and Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church, and Loudoun, all in high-paying and costly Northern Virginia, as well as with some of the toniest places to live on the east coast (Lower Merion, PA in the Philadelphia “main line,” Scarsdale NY, and Montgomery County, MD).

    It’s interesting to note that when it comes to PAYING teachers, the county compares itself to places like Buckingham, Augusta, Nelson, Louisa, and Fluvanna counties as well as Danville and Lynchburg cities. All of these localities are poorer or much poorer than Albemarle, and even at that, some of them do a better job in paying teachers.

    What’s even worse is that the county –– and the superintendent DOES know this –– not only deliberately packs its ‘competitive market’ for teachers with poor localities, but also it collects inaccurate salary data that skews down – dramatically – what teachers should be paid.

    Why does she do this? So she can fund her pet technology projects, for which there is little research support. And so she can fund a STEM magnet school and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs, which she terms ” transformational education.”

    [Note: The superintendent’s biggest technology failure – to the tune of $2+ million – was likely SchoolNet. She still withholds 268 SchoolNet-related emails from public scrutiny. See, for example: http://www.readthehook.com/100248/no-school-administrator-left-behind

    The problem with STEM is that there is no STEM ‘crisis’ in the U.S. Far from it. In fact, ““Leading experts on the STEM workforce, have said for years that the US produces ample numbers of excellent science students. In fact, according to the National Science Board’s authoritative publication Science and Engineering Indicators, the country turns out three times as many STEM degrees as the economy can absorb into jobs related to their majors.”

    A 2004 RAND study “found no consistent and convincing evidence that the federal government faces current or impending shortages of STEM workers…there is little evidence of such shortages in the past decade or on the horizon.” The RAND study concluded “if the number of STEM positions or their attractiveness is not also increasing” then “measures to increase the number of STEM workers may create surpluses, manifested in unemployment and underemployment.”

    A 2007 study by Lowell and Salzman found no STEM shortage (see: http://www.urban.org/publications/411562.html ). Indeed, Lowell and Salzman found that “the supply of S&E-qualified graduates is large and ranks among the best internationally. Further, the number of undergraduates completing S&E studies has grown, and the number of S&E graduates remains high by historical standards.” The “education system produces qualified graduates far in excess of demand.”

    An engineering professor at Rochester Institute of Technology related to a Congressional committee last summer that“Contrary to some of the discussion here this morning, the STEM job market is mired in a jobs recession…with unemployment rates…two to three times what we would expect at full employment….” And as Beryl Lieff Benderly wrote recently (Jan. 17, 2012) in the Columbia Journalism Review, the STEM glut “has created a grim reality for the scientific and technical labor force: glutted job markets; few career jobs; low pay, long hours, and dismal job prospects for postdoctoral researchers in university labs; near indentured servitude for holders of temporary work visas.”

    This is what the county schools superintendent has foisted on county taxpayers, and on teachers. And then she whines about a ‘budget crisis.”

    There’s a “crisis” alright in the county schools. But it’s not in the budget. It sits in the superintendent’s office, and it’s been aided and abetted by members of the county School Board.

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