Liverman: Schools can#039;t afford to play wait-and-see#039; when it comes to funding By Luefras Robinson 07/06/2004 Suffolk News-Herald With two million square feet of instruction space sprawled thro
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 6, 2004
With two million square feet of instruction space sprawled throughout the city on a total of 550 acres and increasing financial challenges on the horizon, Suffolk Public Schools cannot afford to play &uot;wait-and-see&uot; when it comes to how much city funding it can count on annually.
This was one of the key messages Schools Superintendent Dr. Milton R. Liverman drove home to board members at Tuesday’s retreat. Accompanied by key staff at the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission headquarters in Chesapeake, the school board grappled with numerous issues on its plate for the new fiscal year, some of which include:
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Completing one high school and starting construction on a new elementary school in the northern corridor to catch up with the city’s burgeoning growth;
Heightened demand to fund more gifted and talented, music and technology related programs to increase the caliber of offerings for its students;
Federal regulations requiring more emphasis on the diversified Special Education population, and meeting additional accommodation requirements;
Achieving 100 percent accreditation for all its schools division wide, in part, meaning more emphasis on SOL (Standards of Learning) preparation and summer enrichment programs.
Meeting the federal NCLB (No Child Left Behind) legislation, requiring its employees, namely teachers and assistant teachers to be deemed &uot;highly qualified&uot;- which means funding bigger paychecks.
But in what Liverman described as a &uot;disturbing trend,&uot; he noted that city funding decreased as a percentage of its operating budget from 42.73 percent to 41.14 percent in 2003-2004. Again, that number slipped to 40 percent for the current cycle. This is making it harder to meet current needs, and even begin to look at doing more.
&uot;We cannot continue to meet our needs with this pattern of revenue support,&uot; said Liverman.
Considering all of the schools’ needs and the student population growth of about 500 annually, Liverman believes the school system must take a different route with the city: revenue sharing.
Under this plan the city and schools would agree to a locked in percentage for funding, hopefully nothing under 45 percent, said Liverman, contingent upon local tax revenue. This would do several things, he added, namely taking the politics out of the process.
Additionally, school officials would know early on how much money they have to work with. If a tax increase became necessary to address the school’s needs, Liverman said, the city would not have shoulder the responsibility.
&uot;It takes the politics and the pressure off city council,&uot; stressed Liverman.
With a revenue sharing plan in place, the division could have realized $1.6 million more at 50 percent in 2001-2002; $848,984 in 2002-2003; and $2.2 million for 2003-04.
Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield County are among the localities with revenue sharing agreements. At the upcoming Virginia School Association meeting in November, the subject is the highlight of the agenda.
Liverman is hopeful that the school board will add this to Thursday night’s agenda, so that talks can begin with the city.