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School leaders petition for help

On the same day Gov. Bob McDonnell unveiled his administration’s education reform legislation in Richmond, 14 area superintendents of education were contacting state legislators asking for their help in overturning one of the governor’s early educational funding decisions.

Monday, McDonnell announced his intention to change the formula used to calculate the ratio of state to local money in school budgets across the commonwealth. Many have called it an extremely political move that resulted from pressure from school systems in Northern Virginia, which stood to lose funding if McDonnell had frozen the formula at last year’s rates.

The adjusting of that ratio will cost Suffolk schools in particular more than $4 million in yearly funding.

In the letter, the superintendents claim “the loss of funding will undoubtedly force many of us to implement severe cost cutting strategies such as raising class sizes, eliminating programs for children, furloughing or laying off employees and delaying or eliminating much needed capital improvements.”

Although Liverman and others hope the letter and pressure from sympathetic local legislators will overcome the governor’s decision, he is realistic.

“I am hopeful, but not confident,” Liverman said. “I am really not certain what kind of response we can expect from this.”

The letter was endorsed by superintendents from Virginia Beach to Franklin, all of whom would lose valuable state funding in this move.

According to the letter, the participating systems would lose more than $58 million in funding, which would force superintendents to look at finding programs and salaries to cut in order to prepare their 2010-11 and 2011-12 budgets.

The changes to the index would result in cuts not only for the 14 systems represented by those superintendents signing the letter, but also for a total of 93 systems around the state — and would only benefit 39.

“The bottom line is that more school districts will suffer than gain from the governor’s proposal and the children who need the help the most — the poor and at-risk — will suffer,” the letter reads. “Please raise your voices on behalf of the children of the 93 school districts that would lose significant funding if this recommendation were to become a reality.”

The superintendents asked specifically that legislators help keep the freeze on any changes to the ratio or “at the very least forge a compromise that will mitigate its powerfully negative effects.”

Even though Liverman claims to be hopeful for a change in the decision, he already knows of a number of possible cuts and system changes to account for the loss in funding.

“We could be looking at a lot of things — none of which I would want to cut,” Liverman said. “The list of possible cuts goes on and on.”

One of those programs — not mandated by the state’s Standards of Quality — is the availability of a school nurse at each school.

Currently, the system employs 24 school nurses, but the state provides partial funding for one nurse for every 1,000 students, meaning that only 14 are partially funded.

Liverman also pointed to the fact the state does not provide any funding for full time principals at elementary schools with student populations less than 300. That would put current staffing at Florence Bowser and Robertson elementary schools in jeopardy.

He also pointed out current remediation programs and the 4-year-old program would be at risk, and that cuts would increase the student-to-teacher ratio in classes at the kindergarten through third-grade levels.

And, through all of this, Liverman is still unsure of just how deep other funding cuts from the state and the city will be this year.

“I have not had any indication of what to expect locally, but we are looking at possibly having to deal with an additional $5 million in cuts from the state this year,” Liverman said.