Letter: The school spending problem, possible solution

I continue to believe we can solve our school spending problem if we approach things objectively and without much of the emotion that tends to accompany the annual budget season.

The problem

There appears to be no objective link between school staffing levels and enrollment. As our student enrollment has contracted, reductions in school personnel have, at best, lagged or, at worst, have never been instituted. Most of the school budget and, by attribution, much of the county budget is directly related to the cost of school personnel and attendant benefits. If we fail to objectively address the school personnel issue, we keep in place the annual, emotional rancor over school spending. Moreover, we invite fiscal calamity to our county.

The facts

1. In the face of a 3-percent decline in student enrollment since 2010, total school spending has increased eight percent for the same period. Total spending per pupil has increased 10 percent. Under the proposed 2013-2014 school budget, annual per pupil spending will balloon to $13,866 per pupil.

2. Another indication that we may be overstaffed are the latest student-teacher ratios reported to the Virginia Department of Education and found in the annual superintendent’s report for fiscal year 2012. Rappahannock County High School has one of the lowest student-teacher ratios in the entire state of Virginia, 8.94 to 1. In other words, 118 of the 133 school divisions in the state have higher student-teacher ratios than RCHS.

Possible solution

Why not conduct an independent review of current school staffing with the added goal of creating an enrollment-based comprehensive staffing plan? After all, this is precisely what was recommended by MGT of America some years ago.

The benefits of such a plan will be enormous:

• We’ll have a clear vision for staffing level changes as school enrollment contracts (or expands).

• We’ll eliminate much of the personal trauma associated with making staff reductions when necessary.

• We’ll bring more transparency and credibility to the school and county budget process.

• Finally, we’ll go a long way to securing the community support that the superintendent and school board claim to embrace.

Jeffrey E. Knight

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