Franklin County, once one of the fastest-growing counties in the state, may have to close some of its elementary schools due to a significant reduction in state funding. The county’s Local Composite Index (LCI), which determines the amount of state aid for public education, increased from 0.39 to 0.45, resulting in a $3.7 million deficit for the next fiscal year.
How LCI affects school funding
The LCI is a formula that measures the ability of a locality to pay for education, based on three factors: the true value of real property, the adjusted gross income, and the taxable retail sales. The higher the LCI, the lower the state funding and the higher the local contribution.
According to Dr. Kevin Siers, the superintendent of Franklin County Public Schools, the LCI is skewed in Franklin County because of the high-value homes on Smith Mountain Lake, which do not reflect the economic reality of most residents. He said that about 50% of the student population lives in poverty, and the county has limited resources to raise local taxes.
What are the options to balance the budget
To make up for the funding gap, the school board is considering two options: asking the county for more money from local funds, or reducing spending by consolidating schools and cutting transportation costs. The board estimates that closing one elementary school would save about $1 million, and closing two or three schools would save about $2 million or $3 million, respectively.
The schools that are being considered for closure are Burnt Chimney Elementary, Henry Elementary, Snow Creek Elementary, Callaway Elementary, and the Gereau Center, which offers STEM and arts programs for fifth and sixth graders. The board is also looking at changing bus routes and eliminating some buses to save fuel and maintenance expenses.
How the community is reacting to the proposal
The proposal to close schools has sparked a lot of opposition and concern from parents, teachers, and students, who fear that it would negatively affect the quality of education, the safety of children, and the vitality of the communities. Some parents have started petitions and rallies to save their schools, and some teachers have expressed their frustration and uncertainty about their future.
The school board has held several public hearings and meetings to listen to the feedback and suggestions from the stakeholders, and to explain the rationale and the process behind the decision. The board has also created a survey to gather input from the public, which will be open until February 15. The board plans to vote on the final budget on March 8.
What are the alternatives and the challenges
Some of the alternatives that have been proposed by the public include finding other sources of revenue, such as grants, donations, or partnerships; applying for a waiver or an adjustment from the state; or implementing a four-day school week. However, the board has said that none of these options are feasible or sufficient to solve the problem.
The board has also faced some challenges in communicating and collaborating with the county board of supervisors, which has the authority to approve the local budget and the tax rates. The school board has requested a 10-cent increase in the real estate tax rate, which would generate about $4.5 million in additional revenue, but the county board has not indicated its support for the proposal.