Education Beat: School funding commission predicts $2 to $4 million shortfall

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U.S. Olympian Alice Schmidt, who ran in the Beijing and London games, visited Greer Elementary to teach students about the importance of physical fitness. Photo: Tim Shea U.S. Olympian Alice Schmidt, who ran in the Beijing and London games, visited Greer Elementary to teach students about the importance of physical fitness. Photo: Tim Shea

The Blue Ribbon Commission—a 13-member citizen panel charged with tackling the city schools’ funding woes —predicted a $2 to $4 million funding gap last week during its final report to Charlottesville’s City Council and school board.

The report features near- and long-term “action alternatives” local officials could adopt to stem the division’s recent budget shortfalls. Those action alternatives range from upping the meals, real estate, or lodging taxes, to boosting the amount of middle-income housing, to closing an elementary school.

Three of the commission’s five near-term action alternatives are tax increases, but newly elected City Councilor Bob Fenwick said Charlottesville’s moderate tax rate gives the community a competitive advantage, noting that higher taxes could encourage people to move to surrounding localities, rather than Charlottesville. City Councilor Kathy Galvin said that people and business are concerned with taxes, but added that a strong local economy depends on strong public schools, which attract talent. City Councilor Dede Smith said that raising real estate taxes could impact the most vulnerable renters, and landlords pass new costs on.

One of the findings suggested growing the amount of middle-income housing in the city. City Councilor Kristin Szakos said that the new development along West Main Street might open up houses once rented by students to families.

Smith also questioned the school division’s high staffing levels, but commission members noted the school’s diverse student population, which requires numerous intervention and remediation services.

SOL reform on the table in Richmond

If Delegates Rob Krupicka (D-Alexandria) and Thomas A. “Tag” Greason (R-Loudoun) get their way, Charlottesville and Albemarle students might be taking fewer Standards of Learning exams in the coming years. The pair has introduced House Bill 498, which proposes dropping the total number of SOL tests across the Commonwealth from 34 to 26, and permitting local school divisions to use end-of-year tests other than the SOL for some subject areas.

The reduction in tests would appear mostly at the elementary and middle school levels, and would focus the remaining exams on reading and mathematics. The legislation also states that, if adopted, the Virginia Board of Education will create plans for divisions that want to implement assessments other than the SOL tests for history, science, and social science.

Our Education Beat coverage appears thanks to a partnership with Charlottesville Tomorrow.

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