Guest Commentary: The truth is alarming!
by Rusty Fairheart
Middlesex School Superintendent
Much has been written recently about the looming budget cuts facing Virginia’s public schools. School boards and superintendents across the commonwealth are being forced to consider larger class sizes, staff reductions, outsourcing support services, and program elimination to deal with the anticipated budget shortfall.
On the other side of the aisle, there are those individuals in our legislature and elsewhere who feel that school divisions are overstaffed. In their view the pending budget shortfall can be remedied through reductions in administrative and support staff.
Furthermore, our public schools continue to operate under the strangle hold of antiquated funding and staffing models. Lastly, schools and localities continue to bear the burden of unfunded mandates from the state and federal government.
So what is the truth and what does it mean for Middlesex County?
Based on former Governor Kaine’s proposed budget (HB/SB 30), our school division stands to lose somewhere between $350,000 and $900,000 in state funds. The variation in funding is dependent upon the adoption of his proposal to delay implementation of the recalculated Local Composite Index (LCI) for FY10.
However, the General Assembly has already voted down his proposed income tax increase ($1.9 billion) on which his proposed budget was balanced. Therefore, it remains to be seen if his proposal to delay the implementation of the LCI will be supported by Governor McDonnell and the General Assembly.
My feeling is we are basically back to square one, waiting for the Governor to provide his strategies and proposals for eliminating the $4.3 billion state revenue shortfall. The true severity of the budget reductions to K-12 public education remain to be seen. Unfortunately, things could get worse before they get better.
Even if former Governor Kaine’s best case scenario is adopted, we would need to request an additional $300-plus thousand dollars from the locality to level fund our current operating budget. This does not account for increases in VRS benefits, group life insurance, health insurance, and rising fuel and utility costs.
The truth is, even the best case scenario is alarming.
The truth is, there still remains a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the FY11 budget.
The truth is, there is no way to absorb budget reductions of this magnitude without negatively impacting instruction.
The truth is, our students deserve school nurses, school resource officers, guidance counselors, librarians, and administrators to deliver a high quality and comprehensive educational program.
The truth is, past decisions have created our current dependency on taxes.
The truth is, we need to identify and create additional sources of revenue.
The truth is, short-term answers prompt long-term questions.
The truth is, we may need to make short-term sacrifices to experience long-term growth.
The truth is, in educational jargon, transparency and accountability are code words for additional reporting and paperwork.
The truth is, we are being asked to do more and more for our children with less and less.
The truth is, we have eliminated 11 full-time positions over the past two years.
The truth is, the state and federal mandates keep coming.
The truth is, we are being forced to make short-term decisions with long-term ramifications.
The truth is, our public schools could benefit from some of the same flexibility being proposed for charter schools.
The truth is, we have outstanding teachers and staff members serving our children.
The truth is, our employees deserve pay increases.
The truth is, FY 12 doesn’t look any better.
The truth is, we will work through this process with students at the forefront of our decision-making.
The truth is, the future success of our schools continues to be the shared commitment and responsibility of all stakeholders and community members.
The truth is, our children are worth it!