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Sunday, May 12, 2013
On April 23, Franklin County supervisors voted 6-1 to disapprove a 2-cent real estate tax increase ($20 per year per $100,000 of assessed valuation) for their public schools. They did so despite being advised by the Franklin County School Board of the specific program cuts that would necessitate, and of the harm that would inflict on the education of the county’s children.
Further, the county’s superintendent of schools, Mark Church, told the supervisors that even with the 2-cent increase, the resulting budget would be “the bare minimum needed to keep the school system running. It is a stabilization budget and does not really address our true needs.” Church provided a detailed plan to begin to meet those needs. Again, the board of supervisors said no.
Franklin County’s children are the victims of these decisions. They are, of course, too young to vote their interests and mostly too young to know what is being done to them by the county’s elected representatives.
On May 1, forced by the supervisors’ failure to fund the schools either from existing county funds or from increased taxes, the Franklin County School Board reluctantly reviewed $1.5 million in damaging cuts. Unless the supervisors provide additional funding, the school board will formalize those cuts on Monday.
By and large, Franklin County schools have performed pretty well on Virginia Standards of Learning tests. However, the required $1.5 million in cuts fundamentally weakens the structure of the county’s instructional program of integrated teams of highly skilled teachers and support staff designed to address the social/educational needs of the county’s children. The mandated cuts reduce that support staff by more than half. That forces children into classroom environments they are unable to handle, cutting short their progress and negatively affecting the instruction and learning of the rest of the children in the classrooms.
But that’s not all. The school board identified the many other cuts necessary to reach the $1.5 million in reductions:
n Eliminating middle-school sports.
n Cutting at least seven governor’s school slots (this in a county that already doesn’t send many of its highly qualified students to the governor’s school).
n Eliminating two pre-K classrooms (in a county that provides only half of its eligible children with pre-K).
n Cutting individual school budgets by 6 percent across the board.
A 2-cent real estate tax increase or equivalent revenue from other sources would prevent these damaging cuts. However, as noted, Church explained the resulting budget “does not really address our true needs.” The superintendent identified a specific plan to begin addressing several pressing problems: the falling Franklin County High School graduation rate (an indicator that a decline of the county’s schools may have started), the glaring deficiencies at the county’s Career and Technical Center, the overcrowded high school and middle schools and the need for increased use of technology. The school board supported that plan, but the board of supervisors did not.
Finally, when deciding on school funding, I think Franklin County residents and their elected representatives must take into account the highly competitive world our students will enter. Global competition is leaving our children and, for that matter, the children of Virginia and the United States, far behind.
On international standard tests of high school students, the U.S. ranks 14th in reading, 17th in science and an abysmal 25th in math. The Virginia Department of Education, referring to these test results, wrote in its 2011 annual report that U.S. performance is “shockingly below” many of the world’s leading industrialized countries.”
Nationally, according to former Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and many others, approximately 3 million jobs are unfilled in the United States because students graduating from our public schools are not qualified to fill them.
The future of Franklin County public schools is now up to the Franklin County Board of Supervisors.
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