Charlottesville Budget Hearing Highlights Arts Education, Justice System

April 1, 2013

Charlottesville City Council is preparing to adopt a budget in the coming week, but not before the public got a chance to offer input ahead of the vote.

Monday night's public hearing on the proposed $148 million budget put the justice system and arts education in the spotlight.

The largest single increase in the proposed budget is for Charlottesville City Schools. In the plan, schools would receive a net increase of about $960,000 from the city.

But it was a cut in funding for a program thousands of city students have utilized this year that got teachers and other supporters talking at the meeting.

In the proposed budget, the Paramount Theater/Arts Education program is allocated $12,525. That is 25 percent less than last year.

"If cut, it will negatively impact our most vulnerable and culturally-deprived students," Penny Bosworth, chair of the theater's educational committee, read in letter on behalf of Clark Elementary teacher Kathryn Rogers.

The program exposes students to educational experiences at the theater.

"The reality is that, even in a town as nice as Charlottesville and as culturally enriched as Charlottesville, that we have so many students whose only exposure to the arts will be through the generosity of this city council," said Jackson-Via teacher Susan Northington.

Council members also heard a renewed push for a a pay equity proposal, which would help close the pay gap between prosecutors and public defenders. The city is being asked to contribute a pay supplement of $62,513.

"Prosecutors in this area earn 25 percent more than public defenders," said public defender Jim Hingeley. "We think that's surprising and we think that's a problem because we believe that prosecutors and public defenders both do important jobs in our community."

The pay equity proposal is not factored into the proposed budget, but supporters are asking council to reconsider. They say the lower pay is making it more difficult for the public defender office to recruit and retain quality staff.

"What the office is losing is the experience, the years in service, the years in the trenches," said Charlottesville clerk of court and former assistant public defender Llezelle Dugger. "That's what this is about. It's not about what public defenders get paid. It's parity issue. Our criminal justice system demands that both sides start at equal."

For more information on the pay equity proposal, CLICK HERE.

Council will have another budget work session on Thursday. They are expected to adopt a budget April 9.

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