Kevin Castner: Snow day

Leather sofa and chairs arranged around an area rug, M&Ms on the coffee table, and a golf-putting gizmo in the corner– hey, nice digs. Not exactly what one expects to find in a county office.

"These were paid for by me, not by taxpayers," Albemarle County School Superintendent Kevin Castner is quick to point out, adding that the furnishings came from Sam's Club.

Well, you can't be too sensitive about plush appearances, especially when, like Castner recently did, you're submitting a $105 million budget to the school board.

At a time of crippling state deficits, Castner has refused to scale back his funding requests for what he believes the county needs to maintain a quality school system. He even threw in a four percent salary increase for teachers.

The "needs-based" budget is a January ritual for Castner, his eighth since moving here from Frederick, Maryland, to head the county school system. Public hearings are another part of that ritual, complete with complaints from the Conservative Coalition about how much education costs, and from parents that the county is not spending enough.

As contentious as that process can be, the budget is not what generates the most calls to the superintendent's office.

"I get more calls about snow days than instructional issues," says Castner.

Before calling it a snow day, members of the county's department of transportation check out roads throughout Albemarle, the state's seventh largest county, starting at 3:30am. By 5:30am or so, Castner is called to make a decision.

"One time I overruled the director of transportation," recounts Castner. "He gave me a ride through some of the rural roads. That was the last time I didn't support him."

Another issue sure to generate calls is redistricting. Castner has learned as superintendent that if your primary goal is student learning, you have to acknowledge such emotional firestorms "without letting them take you away from the main goal."

And with a fairly affluent, well-educated community of parents clamoring for the best for their little darlings, Castner's biggest challenge is to be an advocate for those kids whose parents don't attend school board or school meetings. "For us to be a successful system, these kids have to be as successful as our most able students," he says.

Age: 55

What brought you here? An attractive job in a university community

What's worst about living here? Too far from the Outer Banks

Favorite hangout? Jarman's Gap and the Crozet Country Club

Most overrated virtue? Patience

What would people be surprised to know about you? I like to garden.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? My slice

What accomplishment are you proudest of? Beating my wife at Scrabble one time.

What do people find most annoying about you? Lack of patience

Whom do you admire? Jimmy Carter, Morgan Wooten, Ace Harrison

Favorite book? Teaching as a Subversive Activity

 What subject causes you to rant? Lack of state funding for public education

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? Internet

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? Internet

What do you drive? A deer-dented Volvo

What's in your car tape player right now? A book on tape, Prelude to Foundation, by Isaac Asimov

What's your next journey? Rolling Stones concert at Madison Square Garden

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? Every time Mother Nature fools us on a snow day

What do you regret? Not spending enough time with my family

Favorite comfort food? M&Ms

What's always in your refrigerator? Olives

Must-see TV? West Wing

 Favorite cartoon? "Garfield"

Describe a perfect day. 36 holes

Walter Mitty fantasy? Coaching college basketball

Who'd play you in the movie? Kevin Costner

Most embarrassing moment? I broke my wrist while trying to get the attention of my chemistry class during my second year as a teacher.

Best advice you ever got? They didn't pay Babe Ruth to bunt.

Favorite bumper sticker? If you can read this, thank a teacher.