PE Discusses Deeper Cuts In School Funding

Published 12:14 pm Thursday, April 16, 2015

PRINCE EDWARD — County schools were facing the potential of $300,000 less in local funds in the County’s advertised budget. That number, however, could grow to nearly $400,000 if supervisors follow through on a per pupil reduction as proposed by Buffalo District Supervisor C.R. “Bob” Timmons Jr. in the board’s Tuesday afternoon budget work session.

The supervisor cited a reduction of 100 students this year in the Average Daily Membership (ADM), suggesting that they take the amount that the “County gave last year and reduce it—divide it by the number of students and reduce it that amount.”

Last year’s school budget was based on an ADM of 2,135, noted County Administrator Wade Bartlett. This year, it’s 2,035. It is a 4.68 percent decrease. A corresponding decrease of the transfer of County funds to the schools translates into approximately $389,000.

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“That’s my recommendation,” Timmons said. “I think that we need to start with working with the schools…over the next five years to get a established cost per ADM so that they know where they’re gonna be, they can do their budgeting based on that…”

With more students it would go up, he cited, with less students it would go down.

“I want to…try to get the ADM cost more in line with the counties around us…rather than where we are sticking out with a lot…more funding per student than what…our neighbors are. But it can’t happen in one year,” Timmons said. “They’ve got to plan for this.”

It may take five or seven years, he added, but “we need to getting some handle on this.”

Added Farmville District (701) Supervisor Jim Wilck, “It also might serve as an encouragement to try to lower the number of students that are leaving.”

Bartlett presented information to supervisors last week from the state superintendent’s annual report looking at local funding in Prince Edward and seven other area counties. The average amount per pupil of local expenditures in 2013 was $2,549.14 for Prince Edward neighbors. It was $3,707 in Prince Edward.

Board Chairman Howard Simpson asked Division Superintendent Dr. David Smith, who was present, what the effect would be on the school system.

“A decrease of $389,000 is gonna be a heavy hit,” he said. “It’ll affect the…number of teachers, it’ll affect programs. Beyond that, I can’t speculate, but that’s a huge reduction.”

The superintendent also offered that as ADM has declined, there has been a significant decrease in state funding. Over the last six years, they’ve lost nearly $4 million.

“And all of that comes at a time that we’re working diligently to try to improve the academic performance of students,” Dr. Smith said.

County supervisors had agreed to advertise a budget that included a $300,000 cut in local funding for the public schools with $8,017,182 in transfers from the County’s general fund. A hearing on the budget proposal is scheduled on Tuesday, April 21 at 7 p.m. in the County’s courthouse.

Sometime before the end of the budget process, the board—having advertised a 49-cent real estate tax rate—will need to make decisions on County expenditures, including how much to fund the schools.

“…We’re talking about the importance of making sure that our kids get the best education and that we are making sure that we’re getting the best teachers and…that the availability of the max amount that we can do for our kids is there, understanding that the numbers have dropped a hundred students for this…past year,” Prospect Supervisor Calvin Gray said.

He would also note, “I just want to understand that…we’re saying that it is important for us when we look at the numbers, that it’s more expedient for us to cut the dollars because of the decrease in numbers of students than what…the needs of…students are at this time, given what the recommendation is from the school board and the (superintendent).”

Timmons would note that the cost of the schools keeps going up, the performance is going down, and that they have 500 less students over the last five years.

“…They should be looking at the efficiency, looking at what’s going on and making adjustments within the curriculum, making adjustments within the schools and making those adjustments to help us and the county residents here run a very efficient school that performs to the standards that we all expect,” he said.

Gray commented, “I still want to make sure that we are looking out for the best interests of our students, not so much based on reduction of students, but based on the ability to get the best out of the dollars for our kids…even if it costs more—if we are looking towards getting the best that we can…I agree that our school system needs to be held accountable. I agree wholeheartedly that we need to do some serious evaluation…with the end results of our SOLs and the testings and the image of our school. I agree 100 percent…But I also want an understanding are we talking about doing that and suggesting that we cut…the funding to a point where they’re struggling to do what we ask them to do?”

Timmons would respond that they have $25 million out there, and that it’s not a cut where they’re struggling.

Leigh District Supervisor Jerry Townsend would offer that he’s concerned about what the impact will be on the quality of education for the students.

Bartlett commented, “The question of this is really, why are the taxpayers of the county paying a thousand dollars more per student but not getting the same results as our neighboring counties.”

Townsend, would note, “You’ve got different people. People learn different.”

Timmons disagreed.

He would at one point comment that they “have the same type kids” as neighboring counties. “Our kids here are no different than any other county,” he said. “What are they doing different than we are? They have a better performance and a whole lot less cost. What are we doing different than what they’re doing? I don’t have the answer to that, but it should be a question that we investigate as to what’s going on and why.”

Dr. Smith offered that the cuts would make it more difficult for the changes to be made.

“…I disagree with that totally,” Timmons said assessing that there was an opportunity to do some savings at the school as far as costs. Timmons said he thinks that there is “a huge opportunity with a reduced cost to improve the quality of education” and that the last ten years has continued to go down and that throwing a money at a situation “doesn’t necessarily fix it.”

The board has discussed the student-teacher ratio, with one calculation figuring the ratio is about 11-1. If that is the case, “or something like that,” Wilck said, “we can cut some teachers out of that ($389,000), and we’re not cutting other things. We’re cutting the excess teachers as an example.”

Farmville District (801) Supervisor Pattie Cooper-Jones said that one thing that has been a major concern for her in the past few years is that there are no aides in kindergarten.

“I have a real issue with no aides being in the kindergarten class, but you got aides in middle school,” she said. “I have a real problem with that. And if we don’t start buckling down—no we cannot tell the school board what to do. We are very limited. We can say all day what we demand, what’s gonna happen. But until we tighten those purse strings and see some things happen, it’s never going to happen.”

Townsend, near the end of the discussion, assessed that doing the math, Timmons is exactly right. The numbers reduce 100 times the cost. Sometimes, however, he offered, that the math says one thing, but “the application is totally different.”