[Recently the Staunton News Leader had an article written by reporter Megan Williams that had many inaccuracies. I was extremely disturbed by what I read due to the fact that the article painted a false picture of how Augusta County schools are funded. Information has been sent to her with the facts, and a correction was printed in the Thursday, October 2, 2014, edition of the News Leader. This article has been updated since its original post.]
“Facts are Stubborn Things” — John Adams
Augusta County Public Schools are funded by all three levels of government: local, state, and federal. These individual levels change depending on different formulas and different criteria such as population, average daily attendance, gross land value, annual sales tax, number of special needs children in the district, and number of children that live under the poverty level to name a few. Needless to say a public school system’s funding is extremely complicated and hard to nail down for comparisons with other counties. That being said, one of the ways this comparison is done is to look at Total Funding for a school year divided by the Total Number of Students that attend schools in that district. Although this is a crude way of looking at it, it is a common practice.
The 2014-2015 school budget was approved earlier this spring for a total funding of $115,982,260 dollars. This number is not exclusive and it includes operating costs, cafeteria costs, capital improvement costs, school debt, the Head Start Program, and the Governor’s School. The School Board expected 10,260 students to be enrolled for the 2014-2015 school year. This results in a funding of $11,304 per student.
Now that the 2014-2015 school year has begun, enrollment is higher (10,529 students). As a result, we see a decrease in funding per student based on our budget for schools ($11,016 per student). However, in March of 2015, the Commonwealth of Virginia will send a check to the school system to make up for the additional students that we have (269 students). This check will be for hundreds of thousands of dollars. I am anxious to find out what that money will be used for.
The News Leader article failed to point out these facts and, even so, didn’t get the numbers they thought they had right. For instance, the article stated we have a larger population than Rockingham County. Well, we all know that is not correct. In reality, Augusta County has a smaller population (Augusta County has 74,504 while Rockingham County has 78,102) so, therefore, a smaller tax base. Rockingham County has more students attending their schools and as a result receives more money from the Commonwealth of Virginia than we do. Augusta County pays more money for experienced teachers than Rockingham County does. It is true that Augusta County has a lower starting pay for new teachers than Rockingham County.
Augusta County does pay less per pupil in Operating Funds than Rockingham County. However, Augusta County puts almost $244,000 more into Capital Improvement than Rockingham, $814,569 more in our Governor’s School Program, and we have a Head Start Program. Rockingham County doesn’t have a Head Start Program budget, a program for poor children that are in pre-school.
In Augusta County we pay $7,982,828 for annual debt service. This could be changed. The Augusta County School Board could request that the Board of Supervisors shift money from their capital (construction) projects and put it into our Operating Fund for the schools. Currently, the School Board is asking for $18.9 million to build the new Riverheads Elementary School.
There are many more inaccuracies that are put out there about school funding. Some are intentional and some are just a result of a bad understanding of how the funding works. Regardless, I hope this post has helped make some sense of the mess. As always, if you have any questions or would like to comment, feel free to contact me at DavidKaraffa@comcast.net. Thank you.