Tight times for schools

Published 8:44 am Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Following the lead of its counterpart in Isle of Wight County, the Franklin School Board last week approved a lean fiscal 2010 budget that recognizes the difficult economic times in which we live.

The elimination of 23 jobs is painful but necessary. To the school board’s credit, students will be spared the brunt of the impact, as only seven of the lost jobs are teaching positions. The others are administrative and support jobs. Their elimination will make life a little a more difficult for administrators, but students shouldn’t notice much of a difference.

The cuts would have been much worse if it weren’t for federal stimulus money, which will save five teaching jobs that would have been eliminated otherwise. The federal money will help offset a $1 million loss in state funding – some due to state budget cuts but much the result of declining enrollment in Franklin’s public schools.

Logically, the state Department of Education bases its support of local divisions on the number of students who are enrolled. Fewer students should mean less expense. That can be a simplistic model, however, that doesn’t apply to some major expense items. Take transportation, for example. It costs the same amount of money to send a bus down a street whether that bus picks up one child on the street or 15.

The formula being what it is, however, Franklin’s schools must either stop their enrollment declines, which have been steady for a decade or more, or expect to receive fewer and fewer state dollars in the years ahead.

It’s yet another reason for the city schools to cooperate with Southampton County on public education. Short of full-blown consolidation, which should be given some serious thought, hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, if not millions, could be saved if the two divisions would simply share support services.

Why are our elected officials and appointed school board members, both city and county, not talking about this important issue?