Home > Uncategorized > Virginia Superintendent Describes Plight of School Districts Across America: High Needs and Lower Funding

Virginia Superintendent Describes Plight of School Districts Across America: High Needs and Lower Funding

Earlier this week I read a Virginia Pilot Online column written by James Roberts, the Chesapeake (VA) Superintendent of Schools, that could have been written by any superintendent in our nation. The specifics of Mr. Roberts’ plight might vary from state to state, but the basic outline of his description of the funding challenges his district faces are the same anywhere. Here’s the problem he faces in Virginia:

=> From 2009 to 2017, the total state operating budget increased by 40 percent. During the same period, the funding Chesapeake Public Schools received from the state decreased by 2.7 percent.

=> Thanks to the recession, we have a backlog of capital projects — HVAC projects, roof replacements, other modernizations and replacements, new tracks, and yes, stadiums.

=> The state doesn’t provide any money for capital needs to school divisions. That funding falls completely on each locality.

=> Now that there is some recovery in local funding, we can work on some capital improvement projects, but we must prioritize. We can’t put the need for a new football stadium ahead of the large backlog of HVAC repairs and roof replacements. That wouldn’t be the best use of the money we have available. However, as long as we depend only on local funding, we will never catch up with all our needs.

=> Now local school divisions, including Chesapeake, are facing a major shortage of teachers. Competition among divisions is fierce. We have had only minimal solutions at best. The real problem with low pay for teachers in Virginia lies with state funding. Without realistic, sustainable state funding, our teacher pay won’t attract quality candidates into the profession, and good teachers are key to the success of our core responsibility.

=> And…. competition between our own operating needs (mainly pay for teaching and support staff) and our capital needs (such as roof, HVAC systems and stadiums) will only increase.

Unfortunately, this algorithm for internal competition among local needs is nothing new. I wrote a similar column to this when I was Superintendent in rural Maine in the early 1980s, in the Seacoast region of NH in the mid-1980s, in Western MD in the late 1980s through the late 1990s, in Upstate NY in the late 1990s though early 2000s, and in the Upper Connecticut River Valley in the early 200os. But I did see a major difference among the districts I led. The districts I led in NH and the one in Upstate NY I led were more affluent than those in ME and MD. Consequently the operating needs (pay for teaching and support staff) were not as urgent and, as a result, the districts did not have the same kinds of staffing shortages as many of my colleagues encountered. Moreover, as the burden for facilities upgrades fell increasingly to local districts, the tax base in the relatively affluent districts was able to fund building improvements for more easily than the less affluent districts. Finally, in the affluent districts there was a core of parents and community members who rallied the importance of maintaining high-quality schools, and that cadre would help the local board persuade voters to support bond referenda when they were needed to ensure that facilities were kept in good shape and support budgets that kept our operating costs relatively high on a per pupil basis. This phenomenon of local support for schools in affluent districts being greater than local support in less affluent districts results in the rich getting richer and the poor falling further behind. And when the state fails to offset this phenomenon, the result is an ever widening economic disparity.

There was a time when state legislatures and the Federal government took steps to address this by adjusting state formulas for the distribution of funds and by providing “compensatory education” funds. But as money for public education diminished at the state and federal level, the funding formulas did not have the same impact. And once President Reagan’s declaration that “government is the problem” and “taxes are confiscatory” took hold in both political parties, funding equity was no longer seen as a priority… and the algorithm for internal competition among local needs became a reality for all districts in our country.

Mr. Roberts’ solution to this is to call for an increase in state funding for the infrastructure needs his district has. It seems obvious to me that there is another solution: an influx of federal dollars to help districts address unarguable needs like the upgrade of HVAC systems, the replacement of roofs, and the installation of the infrastructure required to provide all students with equitable access to technology. If a local or national business wants to make a name for themselves, they can offer to fund tracks, stadiums, and gymnasiums. But the notion that a local or national business will offer to fund core infrastructure needs is far-fetched at best…. and the notion that local taxpayers in poor districts will ever be able to find local funds to fix their facilities is downright delusional…. and the panacea of “choice”? Don’t get me started!

Advertisements
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: