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No closure for ‘Open School’ policy

Posted on Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 8:53 am

Once again, the issue of out of county students attending Richmond County Schools has come under the spotlight.

On Sept. 12, Dist. 3 Supervisor John Haynes asked that the “Open School” policy, already approved by the school board and currently in effect in the 2013-2014 school year which just began, be reviewed.

“I was waiting for the school board, in completing their determinations as far as policy, just to see where we stood and I understand that they are finished now,” Haynes said.

“I think the central question…was how much it would cost the county to have these students coming in.”

According to Haynes’ recent calculations, several different types of funds “go towards paying for the education costs and what I am using right now is the current year estimate.”

He approximated that for every child coming into the system, the state contributes $4,724 with federal contributions at $949 per-student.

“Every child that comes into this system, according to these figures, will bring $5,673 into the system. When it is stated that these non-resident students will bring income into the schools, that is correct,” Haynes said, adding that local sales and use tax is based on census, not student population, so he did not include those figures into his totals.

Haynes’ numbers contradict the Virginia Department of Education, which says the local contribution was $4,659 for the current fiscal year with an additional $6,366 from state and federal funds, meaning that each student brings $1,707 in extra monies to the system.

“The only figure that I am counting for the county is what is specifically notated as local funds,” Haynes said. “That is $4,527 per child. So, for every out of county child that comes in, they do indeed bring state and federal dollars. But, those dollars are insufficient to pay for the total cost.  I am not against having out of county children attend our schools unless it is a financial burden.”

He added that supervisors were there to ensure taxpayer dollars were spent effectively and that by his calculations, the additional number of children cost the county approximately $450,000.

It is a figure that research and documentation from the state and county completely refutes.

When looking at the county’s educational budget, despite the addition of more students, funding has remained level.

Further dissection shows a simple equation, if the budget remains the same, and more students are added with the bonus of increased federal and state-funding allocations, the cost per-student goes down.

For example (please see graph above), if there was a county budget of $1000 total for education and 100 students attended schools; the cost per student would be $10, with approximately $4 locally contributed.

If that same budget were to remain the same with 200 students, the cost per-student to taxpayers would be approximately just over $2 with an incremental addition for campus population.

Of that original $10, approximately $6 is subsidized through state and federal funding, including taxes taken from those out of county students’ parents.

Therefore, with 200 students, the return goes from $4 local and $6 from the government to just over $2 local but would still include a $6 match in state and federal dollars, resulting in a boon for the county and continued level school funding.

Those additional monies this year, according to local officials, allow for programs such as the new JROTC as well as an increase in after school and other needed programs, books and curriculum.

Haynes also proposed a cap and a slow phasing-out process of out-of-county students attending local schools.

According to Jim Campbell of the Virginia Association of Counties, it is a discussion in which supervisors have no jurisdiction.

Referencing Va. Constitutional Article VIII, Section 7 and Codes 221.1-28 and 22.1-71, as well as Dennis vs. County School Board (W.D. Va. 1981), “responsibility for the supervision of schools in each jurisdiction is vested in the local school board.”

Campbell added, “School boards are responsible for the policy in their division.”

According to the current Virginia Association of Counties manual, supervisors are responsible only for allocating funding to the district, not dictating school policy, which would include any matters pertaining to an “Open School” policy and the number of students allowed to enroll.

Despite multiple meetings between Haynes and Schools Superintendent Greg Smith, there still appears to be a chasm between local officials.

“This is supposed to be what is best for the children,” Haynes said. “I don’t think having to compete against outside children is in the best interests of our citizens. The only benefits I see is that it does maintain a higher workforce, but I see no way it is any benefit to the children. I think the opposite.”

Dist. 2 Supervisor Jean Harper agreed, saying that the current out-of-county student population of 119 for all grades needs to be slashed

“I am in favor of putting a cap on it too, way below 119,” Harper said. “I taught Sunday school to 4 and 5-year-olds, for many years and I know that if you get one child in there that practically disturbs the class it is really hard to get through to the others. I am not saying we have anyone in there, but you could.”

According to Smith, from all current grades and courses, out-of county children amount to 0.75 children per class and the loss of those students would not result in a reduction of staff or the annual fiscal line item.

Federal figures also indicate that without those 119 students, the county educational budget would lose $587,053. That loss, which could be a burden to taxpayers, would result in an approximate 6-cent tax hike per $100 for Richmond County residents.

“It would appear to me that we have already entered into the season so what is the goal [Haynes], in all this?” Supervisor Richard Thomas said. “You certainly can’t change here in the middle of the stream.”

Haynes said he was just introducing a graduated reduction program.

“The reason I want to address it early in the year is so we have plenty of time to address it next year,” he said. “I just don’t like the fundamental premise of tax dollars from Richmond County going to educate the children of other jurisdictions. I don’t think it is our responsibility or fair to the tax payers.”

Smith noted that while the two would agree to disagree, the program is a definite benefit to the school district and locality.

“With all due respect, let us not lose sight that I am not sending you a bill for 119 students,” Smith said. “We do not receive any additional allocations from the county. So, in terms of the revenue stream coming back to the locality for the non-resident students, there is no additional fee to the locality for that. It is revenue coming in solely. So, when we look at it from that context, it is a very beneficial program.”

Smith also noted that approximately 20 students who applied to enter the Richmond County School System were turned down for various reasons.

He emphasized that his plans are to strictly adhere to a student population threshold without exceeding costs at the schools.