Kristin Szakos

Kristin Szakos

During Thursday’s meeting of the Charlottesville School Board, members heard from three candidates for an interim appointment to the board.

Former board member Amy Laufer resigned after her family moved to Albemarle County. She was up for re-election this year. The board will vote to appoint one of the candidates at its Feb. 21 meeting.

The School Board previously said it would give preference to former board members and someone who wasn’t intending to run for the seat during this election cycle.

On Thursday, board Chairwoman Jennifer McKeever asked the applicants what they would hope to accomplish while on the board and what skills and experiences they’d bring to the position.

Ned Michie, a former School Board member, said he agrees with the board’s goal of expanding preschool and would look forward to working on an equity committee and helping to re-imagine the gifted education program.

He said he served on the Quest Advisory Board before beginning his tenure on the School Board in 2004, which lasted until 2017.

“You know my strengths and weaknesses,” Michie said. “Make your decision based on that.”

Kristin Szakos, a former Charlottesville city councilor, said she believes her past service on the council would add institutional knowledge to the board. She also has been involved in several community organizations and the Burnley-Moran Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization.

Szakos said physical infrastructure and racial equity are critical problems facing the division.

“I’ve worked on the community side for educational equity,” she said. “… Schools can and must do better.”

Graham Schraf, a parent and director of operations for Barrett-Johnson & Associates, opened his statement by encouraging the board to choose one of the other candidates.

“Both are better qualified than I,” he said.

Schraf said he’d like to address overcrowding in schools and improve transparency on student behavior issues. During public comment, Schraf and another speaker discussed disruptive behavioral issues at Walker Upper Elementary.

Board member Juandiego Wade said the appointment will be a tough decision.

“They care about what’s best for Charlottesville,” he said. “I think that’s what we need.”

Atkins presents budget

About 61 percent of the Charlottesville City Schools’ funding request for the next fiscal year would be spent on staff compensation, according to a presentation Thursday.

Division staff presented the $88.5 million funding request for Fiscal Year 2020 to School Board members Thursday night. The division is looking to raise teacher and staff salaries and boost the starting wage for instructional assistants, custodians and nutrition staff to $15 per hour. The compensation proposals total about $2.6 million.

“Looking at $15 an hour for the living wage is another step toward us being equitable to those families working in our division who are often our unsung heroes,” board member Leah Puryear said.

Superintendent Rosa Atkins said raising the starting wage would make a significant difference for families, but the division would like to do more.

Kim Powell, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said everything in the budget was evaluated through a lens of equity and in terms of the division’s strategic plan.

To fund all of the proposed changes and other cost increases, the division is requesting $3.8 million more than it was granted for the current fiscal year. The proposal represents a 7 percent increase over last year and is the largest request since 2008.

For the current fiscal year, the city’s overall $179.7 million budget included $54 million in funding for the school division.

Board member Sherry Kraft said the budget was thoughtfully and carefully developed, and she encouraged community members to support fully funding the request.

“We are being asked to do a lot,” she said. “… I think this is the moment for this community to step up and support us and this budget.”

Nearly $1 million of the request would go toward a range of school-based program supports and improvements. The division is looking to add several teacher positions to accommodate growth, increase the daily pay rate for substitute teachers and make security improvements, among other changes.

Atkins also proposed increasing the tuition reimbursement for instructional assistants from $500 to $1,000. The increase would help to recruit and retain teachers, according to a budget presentation.

The board will have a budget work session at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center. It will vote on the budget request at 5 p.m. Feb. 21 at Charlottesville High School.

Katherine Knott is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7263, kknott@dailyprogress.com, or @knott_katherine on Twitter.

Katherine Knott is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7263, kknott@dailyprogress.com, or @knott_katherine on Twitter.

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