Kelley re-elected as School Board chair; Rittenhouse elected vice chair

Student lunch debt rises

By Heather Michon

School Board meetings are moving back to Wednesday nights.

During their annual reorganizational session on Thursday night (Jan 12), members voted unanimously to shift their schedule to the second Wednesday of each month. Open meetings will still begin at 6:30 p.m.

The members moved through a two-page list of appointments to board leadership positions and various local, regional, and state committees, commissions, and associations.

James Kelley (Palmyra District) was re-elected as chairperson, with Charles Rittenhouse (Cunningham District) elected as vice-chair.

The board declined to approve the Code of Conduct because not all members had had the opportunity to read and comment on the document. “If there’s no statutory requirement that we get it done tonight, I would rather get a document that has our shared values,” said Kelley. He  asked that it be put on the February meeting agenda for discussion, with a final vote in March.

Lunch debt

Superintendent Peter Gretz said student lunch debt was already up to $60,000 at the midpoint of the academic year. In 2018, the debt for the entire year was $40,000.

Gretz said there had always been unpaid debt, but speculated that it had been exacerbated this year because payments hadn’t been required during the pandemic-era closures and the first year of in-school learning. “We’ve got the same dynamic, but this year it’s worse because people got out of the habit of paying.”

Other than sending out reminder letters, there is little the school system can do to recover unpaid debts. He stressed that students are not being denied meals because of outstanding balances, but they are prohibited from purchasing a la carte items with their MySchoolBucks accounts.  

Budget objectives

Members have a little over a month to decide on a budget plan to present to the Board of Supervisors. Several budget work sessions have been scheduled for the coming weeks, and Finance Director Brenda Gilliam said she was completing work on spreadsheets and reports they can use for planning.

Andrew Pullen (Columbia District) said that one of his priorities was vocational and technical training. Kelley said he was going to continue his push for more counselors and psychologists, “especially as we are experiencing more behavioral problems than in the past.”

Perrie Johnson (Fork Union District) said her focus was on teacher salaries, pointing out that Albemarle County hires half of the teachers available in the regional talent pool. This means “half of these teachers are getting paid a lot more money than in Fluvanna – not Louisa money, not Goochland money, but Albemarle money – and that is an important consideration.”

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