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How schools get the shaft

SoVaNow.com / April 28, 2016


Dear Viewpoint:

At the Board of Supervisors meeting on April 5 the following remarks were started. Due to time limitations, the full text could not be completed. The complete remarks are shared below.

“Greetings! My name is Roger Long.

I have been a Halifax County taxpayer for over 30 years. I recently completed eight years of service on the Halifax County School Board and have been involved in and served over 50 years in public education in Virginia. As a history teacher, I understand the words of Edmund Burke: “Those who do not know their history are destined to repeat errors of the past.”

Senator Ruff recently reminded me that Public Education in Virginia was designed to be a team partnership between the State and Localities. Whenever the State, however, does not want to fund education fully, the pattern is as follows: A rebenchmarking is done; State dollars are cut, and local funds are sliced. Since 2009 the State has reduced funding for Halifax County Public Schools over $6 million dollars. The State now is funding approximately 75 percent of its share of the actual costs of the Standards of Quality, and they allow you (supervisors), thereby, to only fund 75 percent of the actual local costs of education. That type of support certainly does not set education to be a priority!

Several areas of misunderstanding recently have been aired in public. It is discouraging to dedicated teachers and school personnel that VAST opinions are formed and acted upon with half-vast facts. The following outline should be clear up some of the misunderstandings.

1. Standards of Quality costs: Funding for SOQ in K-12 is a complex procedure that requires careful study and professional knowledge. Funding for K-12 Education is based primarily upon per pupil/ teacher ratios in classes over the entire school system and students served. Generally:-- in Elementary schools a 23-1 teacher/pupil is funded and 25-1 in High & Middle schools. The school system cannot afford to offer classes with less than 15 students. BUT….Perfect distribution of pupils never happens, because schools differ in the number of students at each grade level and class. For example: When a class has more than 23 elementary students, a second class must be formed. Halifax then doesn’t receive extra money for the extra teacher even though the position has to be paid, because the over-all class average for the school system is not reduced. When a class contains 15 – 17 students, a $7,000 +/- loss in State funds is incurred on each student below the 23 or 25 maximum class size. The State doesn’t pay the salaries of all needed teachers, and the cost is passed on to the County. Thanks, Virginia! Doesn’t that make sense to people as to why there are more teachers than SOQ payments? Yes, all teachers teach classes that are approved under SOQ, and, therefore, all teachers are SOQ teachers.

2. Tax Rate: Halifax is not one of the poorer area counties. The tax rate in Halifax County was lowered in 1995 when South Boston reverted to a town in the County. Whereas other area counties have moved to a higher rate, over the past 20 years a LOW tax rate became a habit in Halifax County. Reversion funding by the State provided over $57 million to the County, and that windfall enabled supervisors to leave the $57 million in taxpayer’s pockets by lowering tax rate.

3. When Reversion ended in 2011-12, the Halifax Composite Index of Wealth then rose from 23.8 to 30.24. (+6.46 points) During Reversion the State agreed to provide 76.2 percent of the basic SOQ cost for K-12 education in Halifax County. With the Index change from 23.8 percent to 30.24^ percent, the State now is responsible for 69.76 percent of the base SOQ cost for K-12 education in Halifax County. At $500,000 (half a million $$$) per point, the state passed the responsibility for $3.24 million to Halifax County!!!! ? Halifax County Supervisors have not chosen to provide the county share of partnership losses. When reversion ended, the County should have picked up the $3.24 million difference. Is the County going to step forward and pick up its share = the additional $3.24 million?

4. Halifax County Obligations –The average local spending for education in Virginia is 84 percent more than SOQ basic requirements. Halifax, at 34 percent, is in the bottom 10% in the state. A Salary Study of Halifax County was conducted by the Virginia School Boards Association and found that Halifax paid teacher salaries in the bottom 10 percent among the 132 Virginia school divisions. Many counties poorer than Halifax paid much higher. I chaired the set-up of an efficiency study funded by the County. Over $3 million additional funds were saved including a cost cut of over $500,000 in central administration.

5. Tax Burden - Virginia took a severe hit from the recession. Virginia does not impose a heavy state tax burden. Most other states have a 7 percent base rate, whereas Virginia has a maximum tax rate of 5.75 percent. Recently a State General Assembly member stated that the state was so efficient that Virginia was among the top 5 states in educational achievement and 45th in spending. The real question should be: “Is that difference an efficiency in funding or short-changing of a top priority?

6. The Lottery was supposed to go to Education. The use of Lottery funds originally was sold to the public that money would be increased in separate categories as an extra amount for education. What has happened is that LOTTERY FUNDS are used to displace state obligations, and lottery money actually is shifted to the General Fund for the State!

7. Capital budget - The School Capital budget is being paid by Halifax County, because the State does not pay for capital improvements. The county chose to keep that category on the County ledger when $55+ Million of Virginia Literary Loan funds were provided for construction of the 2 new schools & additions to the Middle School. Since construction did not begin immediately, the funds were idle and $700,000 in interest was also kept on the County side. Refinancing deferred those costs 30 years to future residents.. The County is able to control that process more easily than the schools.

8. Savings- The schools reduced over 130 positions since I came on the school board. 97 of those were teachers. How would you feel to lose an industry that employed 130 people? The County lost 130 real people---residents and taxpayers. That saving largely was a result of consolidation of schools, reduction in the number or pupils and drastic slicing of costs. The state reduced funding & additional cuts were necessary. Supervisors funded an efficiency study so that schools further reduced expenses over $3 million, including $500,000 in costs for administration.

9. Differentiated instruction - Due to funding losses, the school board could not afford to fund any class that could not be given in all other schools. Children are different. Schools are different. Needs are different, but children’s needs are not being met due to $$ shortage. Achievement results by Halifax pupils have suffered due to teacher attention being reduced due to higher class size ratios!

Education has been cited by Supervisors to be a high priority. Was the Halifax County Meals tax passed with the promise that proceeds would go to education? A LOW tax rate has become a habit in Halifax over the past 20 years. Those decisions should be reviewed closely... Supervisors set a property tax rate based on cents per $$100. Children will tell us that “Pinching is painful. It hurts!” Penny-pinching ---> Shortchanges children! Penny-pinching --->Shortchanges OUR FUTURE!

Education cannot do well on LIP –SERVICE! I am not proud of what had to be done by the School Board with the shortage in funding! Many of the toughest decisions had direct effect upon the dedicated personnel in Halifax County Schools. My decisions always were made with consideration first of the effect of that decision on children. Our Children are Our Future! I take NO pride in the direction that currently has been set for our children in Halifax County!”

Roger Long


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