Friday, February 05, 2010

A School Board That Does Its Job

Something exciting is going on in Northern Virginia beside the more than a foot of snow that is expected to fall tonight. As reported in the Washington Post:

The Fairfax County School Board approved a spending plan late Thursday night that would increase its funding request from cash-strapped county officials by $24 million beyond Superintendent Jack D. Dale's request. 1

Just to make sure you understand this—the Superintendent of Schools proposed a budget based on revenues expected from both the County of Fairfax and the Commonwealth. In his budget, Superintendent Dale proposed to cut 600 positions, raise class sizes by an average of one student, pare down summer school offerings, eliminate freshman sports and an elementary foreign-language program, and close an alternative high school. He also proposed fees for athletics and AP and IB tests. Last night, the school board refused to accept the cuts proposed by the superintendent and passed a budget that will require an additional $82 million in funding from the county.

In explaining the board’s action, School Board Chair Kathy Smith said,

Our responsibility is to provide an effective school system. We know what it takes for us to be successful.

Although the board realizes that it might not get the added revenue it requested from the county, it decided that it would not be doing its job if it submitted a budget asking for less than it needed to operate the school system. It will now be up to the county Board of Supervisors to decide whether it will fund the school system at the higher lever asked for by the school board.

It is nice to compare the school board of Fairfax County with our beloved school board here in Richmond. For several years now, the Richmond School Board has been approving budgets based on a level of city funding imposed on it by the City Council. As I have said before, in submitting a budget based on anticipated revenues rather than the needs of the school system, the Richmond Board is abdicating its duties on state law. Who’s on the Side of the Kids?

State law requires school superintendents working with school boards to produce budgets based on the needs of the school system. The law requires the board to request from the governing body (City Council in the case of Richmond) the level of funding needed to operate the schools at the level it determines is proper. It is then up to the governing body, in approving the jurisdictional budget, to decide how much of the school board’s requested funding it will provide.

I am still digesting the proposed fiscal year 2011 budget submitted to the school board by Superintendent of Schools Yvonne Brandon. However, it is clear to me that in reducing Richmond Public School spending for next year, Dr. Brandon is budgeting based on the funds she has been told are available, rather than on the needs of the school system. In her proposed budget Dr. Brandon eliminates nearly 120 teachers from our classrooms. This cut will result in the student to teacher ratio in k-3 being increased by two students per teacher, and the ratio in the remaining elementary and secondary schools by one student per teacher. I can’t believe that these proposals are based on the needs of our students.

So, I compare two school boards. One carries out its responsibilities to its students under state law and prepares budgets based on the needs of the school system. The other abdicates its responsibilities and prepares budgets based on an arbitrary predetermined level of funding.

Back in 2008 I urged the School Board to go back to the drawing board and prepare a budget based on the needs of the children of Richmond. They chose not to follow my urging. This time I’m not sure that I should bother telling the members of the school board what their responsibilities are. They already know. This year it is up to the parents of Richmond to demand that the school board does its job and submits a budget based on the needs of our children.

1 comment:

Phil said...

Are you serious? You are comparing the richest governmental entity in the state - and one of the richest in the NATION - against the city. Their budget deficit is almost as big as our entire city budget. How can you say that the city should give them whatever they ask for when audit after audit shows waste, incompetence, and indifference?