School funding proposal worthy of consideration

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Superintendent Dr. Milton Liverman floated a proposal at Tuesday’s School Board Retreat that’s worthy of study.

Liverman would like to see the city and schools agree to a locked-in percentage of local tax revenue. He hopes the percentage would be no less than 45 percent.

Under such a scenario, if property tax collections in Suffolk amounted to $200 million, for example, the public school system would get $90 million. As property tax collections increase based on residential growth in Suffolk, school funding would increase, hopefully in proportion to the increased school population.

Email newsletter signup

The proposal is attractive on a number of levels: First, it gives the schools a pretty good idea each year how much local money they are going to have to work with, which should make it easier to plan and pay for new programs; second, as Liverman suggested, it pretty much removes politics from the process. The tax increase monkey is taken off City Council’s back. Council members can merely tell tax-weary constituents that they are bound by law to give the schools a certain level of funding. &uot;It is out of our hands&uot;; and three, it would bring Suffolk’s school funding formula in line with those of other Hampton Roads cities.

By the same token, one could argue that over the past four or five years, the City has given the schools pretty much everything they asked for, so planning cannot be that big of a problem. Education is one of this City Council’s top priorities and if nothing else, Council has done a good job of putting its money where its mouth is where priorities are concerned.

As for point number two above, fiscal conservatism and common sense dictates that we should shy away from anything that makes increasing the tax burden on the citizenry easier. This should be the most difficult thing for our elected officials to do. Making it easier simply opens the door to reckless spending.

And thirdly, just because other cities do it, does not make it right. These same cities also chose to ignore the consequences of unfettered growth while Suffolk has smartly adopted a policy of managed growth. Sometimes running with the crowd is not a good thing.

Regardless of the pros and cons, it’s something city and school officials should meet to discuss and perhaps appoint a commission to study it. Obviously, Dr. Liverman feels it is a problem that needs to be addressed and with education such a professed priority of City Council, it’s worthy of a look.