To celebrate Buford Middle School's cultural diversity, students performed during the school's International Night

The Charlottesville School Board wants more options.

At a Monday Town Hall focused largely on adjusting school start times, the Board rejected two proposals—both of which came with $1.6 million price tags for additional buses and drivers—and asked staff to return with another set of plans that could see the school day beginning as late as 8:15 a.m.

Currently, Walker Upper Elementary School and Buford Middle School start at 7:40 a.m., and the elementary schools begin at 8:30 a.m.

Based on research stating that adolescents benefit from more sleep both developmentally and academically, the Board is considering numerous options, from starting elementary students earlier than their middle school counterparts, to moving all start times later in the morning.

Because the division’s buses serve elementary, middle, and high school students, altering the primary grades’ schedules will impact secondary’s schedule, particularly afterschool clubs and athletics, which require travel time.

Most board members said they would like to see a shift to have pre-k through fourth grade start the school day first, however they asked for more information on how an 8:15 a.m. start time would impact the division’s schedule.

The Board could vote as early as April 10, but they plan to have the issue finalized by May.

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City Council offers to increase school funding

The City of Charlottesville and Charlottesville School Board are inching closer to solving the school division’s budget shortfall.

During a business luncheon last week, Mayor Satyendra Huja proposed that the Schools and City split the remaining $262,463 budget gap.

If adopted by Council, the move would leave the school board with a $131,231 shortfall.

Due to new revenue projected from the state, City Manager Maurice Jones said, local government could give the schools half of what the division is requesting and still produce a balanced local government budget.

But City Councilor Kristin Szakos proposed that the city find the additional $131,231 in their budget in order to meet the school division’s full request.

City Councilor Dede Smith said she was hesitant to fully fund the gap when city staff are receiving smaller raises than school teachers, under the two proposed budgets.

The school budget suggests a 1.5 percent pay jump for teachers, in addition to the incremental step up in pay they receive for each year of service, for a total of approximately $1 million in increases.

That equals about a 3 percent for most teachers, said Ed Gillaspie, the school division’s finance director. Jones’ budget includes a two percent raise for city staff.

School board member Jennifer McKeever said the board will determine final adjustments to the division’s budget once the city council finalizes a revenue figure.

The council hopes to adopt a final budget on April 11.

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County schools’ health care costs on the rise

As a result of the University of Virginia’s recent decision to stop providing health insurance to the spouses of employees who are eligible to receive coverage through their own employers, officials say Albemarle County’s school division is facing higher health care costs.

And the increase is piling up higher, and occurring faster, than the division had initially thought.

Since January 1—when UVA’s decision took effect—Albemarle has absorbed 42 new enrollees, more than $200,000 in expenses for this year, and nearly $350,000 in new costs for next year.

According to Jackson Zimmerman, the division’s finance director, many of the enrollees are long-standing employees who never previously received insurance from the division, and that both this and next year’s budgets will be impacted.

The division budgeted nearly $12.4 million for health care this year, and $13.4 next year due to increased rates.

More than 10 percent of those in the schools’ insurance pool are part-time employees.

The division expected some of that population to take insurance through the Affordable Care Act, but that hasn’t happened, Lorna Gerome, Albemarle’s Human Resources Director, said.

Because the new expenditures are coming so late in the fiscal year, Zimmerman said, the division is considering using health care reserves to fund the new costs for either this year or next year.