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Franklin County’s leaders are doing real damage to public education. They can, though, keep it from being lasting.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Tonight, barring a change of heart by miserly supervisors, the Franklin County School Board will cut $1.5 million from an already austere budget. To reach that sum, the board may need to reduce its program for gifted students, eliminate resource teachers for struggling students, pull out of the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School, eliminate middle school athletics and charge students to play sports or march with the band. And the list goes on.
The days of 15 to 20 pupils to a class already were history in Franklin County, as most teachers now have 30 to a class, thanks to years of belt-tightening. Franklin County’s schools, once the pride of the community, are already on the slippery trajectory that, if not corrected, will continue past the point of mediocrity and plummet into the troubled abyss.
It won’t happen all in one year, but the decline will be cumulative, as young children are promoted through the grades without the necessary skills to succeed at the next level. In time, the drop-out rate will rise. And as sports and arts and music programs are curtailed, fewer students will be able to compete in high school.
Though the school board’s actions tonight will accelerate the students along the path of decline, not one member of that board should rest until the course is reversed. Lamenting the lack of funds does nothing to boost them.
True enough, the school board is at the mercy of state lawmakers and the supervisors who determine how much money they can spend on public schools. But the failure to gain adequate funding must be shared by a school board that failed to make a strong enough case to the supervisors that the 2-cent property tax increase it sought was vital.
At its best, the relationship between both Franklin County boards has been strained, and little trust has formed even after last summer’s firing of the school superintendent. That dismissal didn’t cure the school budget. There weren’t hidden pots of money to be found, and gobs of cash were not being wasted.
Instead, the school system has been barely treading water, and now it is sinking. School board members can’t just stand and watch, hoping that someone, anyone, will happen by and toss a lifeline.
They need to be tenacious advocates for public education. They already have parents on board who understand the effect on their children’s education. They need to rally business leaders, who should understand that a decline in the quality of education will directly affect the quality of their future workforce. And they need to convince the supervisors to become the school system’s loudest cheerleaders so that both boards can work together to establish a solid, sustainable means to fund public schools.
There isn’t any more time to waste. Real damage is being done to public education in Franklin County. The question is, will it be lasting?
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