Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Roanoke City Schools struggle with avoiding a fiscal cliff

Web CarsonIn about two years said School Board Chairman David Carson, the school system’s saving from federal stimulus money and the two percent meals tax will run out.

Spending down savings is an unsustainable model unless new funding sources are found said Carson. Those funds need to come from the state he said. Assistant superintendent Curt Baker confirmed that they are in deficit spending to the tune of $4.5 million this fiscal year. A drawdown of $14 million is expected in 2014 and $13 million in 2015.

Mayor Bowers was right when he said that Roanoke City Schools are on the path to a fiscal cliff.

In January Mayor Bowers was chastened by Rosen for saying “I’m becoming concerned that Roanoke’s fiscal cliff is looming just beyond the horizon.”

In a phone call Bowers said that “if the Vice Mayor (Court Rosen) wants to dispute the fact he may do so and should I be wrong and [School Board Chairman] Dave Carson is wrong than OK we are wrong … time will tell if Carson and I are right or Court is right.”

David Carson Monday in his last joint meeting with city council praised teachers and staff on increasing the graduation rate that had seen a low of 52% only eight years ago. It may even reach 80% this year hinted Carson.

With appreciation to city council in working with the school board Carson followed with candid concerns. “We’re not satisfied because there is a lot of work left to go. I am profoundly concerned about public education in general and public education in Virginia.”

The school system is seven years behind the times in regards to state funding for public education said Carson. “The cynic in me says that there is an agenda behind the starvation diet that public schools systems have been under in the state.”

Carson bluntly stated that the political agenda is to open private or charter schools. Those schools are no better than public schools. “In many cases they are worse,” he said.

The difference he explained was that they can “choose their curriculum, they can choose their calendar, they can choose the length of their school day and they can choose their students.” Public schools don’t have that flexibility and are burdened with mandates. “We can educate anyone who comes into our schools,” he said.

Graduates who take more than four years to graduate from high school are not included in the on time graduation rate. “It penalizes an urban school system,” said Carson.

Several elementary schools suffered when written reading tests went to a computer. These were students who “by nature of their economic disadvantage” had no access or experience with computers. Tests are changed at the last minute giving teachers no time to prepare. RCPS Plus will help solve some of these problems said Carson.

RCPS Plus is meant to help students over hurdles including the use of computers. “I am really worried about accreditation at six of our elementary schools – I don’t think they are going to make it,” said Superintendent Rita Bishop.

The third graders who didn’t have computers at home spent two days, eight hours a day taking the reading test that left some in tears and bordered on child abuse she said. RCPS Plus at a cost of $1 million annually is needed to keep RCPS momentum moving forward. “I have to prove that the ability of students to read improves using computers,” said Bishop.

Council members were concerned that they would end up being the “bad guys” when the money runs out. The new 40 percent funding formula -“It absolute should be fine,” said Carson if it were not for being short changed by the Commonwealth. “You exceeded what is expected of a locality,” he told council.

Councilman Sherman Lea called legislative meetings where they would express school funding concerns as “a picnic more than a legislative meeting.”

School Board appointment:

City Council reappointed Susan Moore and Annette Lewis to the Roanoke City School Board. Attorney William “Bill” Hopkins, Jr. was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Chairman David Carson who takes the bench as Circuit Court Judge for the 23rd District on July 1.

Hopkins, Jr. is the son of former state Senator and Majority Leader William “Bill” Hopkins Sr. who passed away in December of 2012.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Education, Roanoke City Public Schools

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