School Could Start as Early as Aug. 3

By Ruthann Carr


School Superintendent Chuck Winkler told School Board members the “best-case scenario” would be school starting on Aug. 3. 

But he added that, “if I’m being realistic, we’ll likely have to go back to the drawing board. We’re also looking at a September, October or November start and virtual learning.”

Winkler made the comments Monday (May 4) in a called video meeting of the School Board to work through budget, school calendar and health insurance concerns. The pandemic has affected almost all aspects of school life.

He said the tentative school calendar calls for staff to come back to school on the last week of July. No professional development days are embedded in the new proposed calendar.

No changes are proposed for September, October and November. Student Christmas break is from Dec. 21 – Jan 3. 

Dec. 21 would be a staff day of which Winkler said, “If they can make it happen at home, they can do that.” 

School resumes Jan. 4.

No change in February, March, April. Spring break is the same.

New last date of school is May 28. 

Winkler said the committee didn’t set a graduation date. 

“We could leave it on the 21st or have it on May 28.”

Pullen asked the Board to consider waiving the requirement for home schoolers to prove evidence of progress by Aug. 1. Winkler said he would look into the request. 

During public comments, Johnson read an email from Nancy Hines in which she suggested how to have end-of-year celebrations for graduates and staff retirements. 

“Perhaps signs on the road, principal delivering diplomas, a big one-page ad in the paper – and for retirees, a nice gift and a mention on Facebook.” 

School board members decided to meet in person at the school administration building for the regular May 13 meeting.  Chair Perrie Johnson (Fork Union) suggested the in-person meeting because the law limits topics discussed during video meetings to matters affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“We’re so restricted in what we can discuss I fear we won’t be well prepared to handle all the issues piling up,” Johnson said.

Shirley Stewart (Rivanna) and Andrew Pullen (Columbia) said they would join Johnson at the meeting May 13. Pullen asked that the public be able to sign up for a spot to make public comments in person and wait outside to be called in when it was their turn. 

Winkler said he was uncomfortable opening the building to the public. He said the public may comment by phone, email or letter. 

James Kelley (Palmyra) said he would take part remotely. Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham) did not take part in Monday’s meeting. 


The Covid-19 pandemic caused state and local authorities to adjust their budgets downward. 

Because of that, school funding is reduced. 

Winkler proposals to reduce the Fiscal Year 2021 budget include:

  • Cutting proposed raises to 1 percent;
  • Scale adjustments to the speech pathologist, school psychologist and nurses;
  • Maintaining staff on Scale B;
  • Only hire one more special education teacher rather than two;
  • Do not hire an athletic trainer;
  • Keep the Career and Technical Education apprenticeship to the same hours as this year rather than increasing them as originally planned;
  • No increases to coach stipends, transportation, substitute coverage.

Johnson was concerned that high school teachers would still get the choice to earn extra money by using their planning time to substitute teach, but that option isn’t offered to elementary teachers. 

Pullen said he didn’t support the first FY21 budget and is troubled by where Winkler proposed the cuts.

“I voted against the proposed budget before the coronavirus, with all the cuts we have to make we’re still discussing adding a somewhat controversial position: a literacy coordinator,” he said.

Kelley said the literacy coordinator is vital given problematic achievement disparities among students. 

“With widening gaps we need this more so than ever,” he said. “I don’t find it expendable – the need of the position.  It’s something I feel very passionately about and I think it belongs in this budget.”

Stewart said the “world has turned upside down” since they started working on the budget. She said they have to ask themselves, “What will school look like when we get back?”

Johnson asked the Board members to “give serious consideration” to use any money that may be leftover in the FY21 budget to “reinstate compensation already approved.”

Kelley said he agrees in principal with Johnson but did want to do so in a formal vote.

“I’m indicating (that if we have left over money) this seems like a reasonable thing to put forth,” he said. “Circumstances changed dramatically (since the Board voted on the FY21 budget) I’m ready to support the new proposal.  We need to tighten our belt…”

Stewart agreed.

“Hard decisions had to be made and I support the changes you’re supporting.”

The Board will vote on the revisions at the May 13 meeting, as well as proposed changes to health insurance.

Those health insurance changes include:

  • Adjustment to the rate for the high deductible plan;
  • Rates for two employees;
  • Health Savings Account employer contributions;
  • Assuming a spousal exclusion.

The spousal exclusion means if a spouse is eligible for health insurance with their employer, they will not be able to join the school plan. 

Also for FY21, dental and vision coverage are offered as separate plans. That coverage was included in previous plans.

Board members pushed back against the changes. 

Pullen said these additions weren’t in place when they voted for the health insurance plan in April. 

Kelley asked the administration to provide the Board with information on how many employees would be affected by the changes – particularly the spousal exclusion.

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