School chiefs make plea to governor

Published 4:13 pm Saturday, February 20, 2010

FRANKLIN—School Superintendents Charles Turner of Southampton County, Michelle Belle of Franklin and Michael McPherson of Isle of Wight County joined with others across the state Friday in asking Gov. Bob McDonnell to reconsider his support of a plan that would divert millions of state education dollars to Northern Virginia schools.

The Local Composite Index determines the amount of state funding each school district receives. It is set to be updated this year, as it is every two years. Former Gov. Tim Kaine had proposed freezing the index this year, because the update would mean less state funding for more than 90 Virginia school divisions, including Franklin and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties, and raise the state’s education costs by $29 million.

McDonnell announced earlier this month that he would not follow Kaine’s lead in supporting a freeze of the index.

“For nearly 40 years, the local composite index has been an impartial means by which to determine state and local responsibility for education funding in Virginia,” he said. “The application of this index has always been done in an objective manner, using the most recent fiscal data to most fairly apportion state resources.”

A letter sent to McDonnell on Friday and signed by superintendents and school board members representing 87 school divisions states that the composite index update “leaves the majority of Virginia’s school districts with little choice but to recommend more substantial cuts which ultimately will prove devastating to both classroom instruction and staff.”

“We need them to freeze this index,” Belle said Friday in an interview.

The index update, if approved by the General Assembly, would provide an additional $128 million to about 30 school divisions, primarily in Northern Virginia.

“There is a considerable difference between having to cut real money from budgets, as we will be forced to do, versus not gaining additional money, (as will be the case in Northern Virginia),” the letter states.

Among the districts that will lose funding if the index is updated, the letter states, “are some of the most fiscally stressed in the commonwealth. They include many urban and rural districts with high concentrations of poor and at-risk children.”

The governor’s budget recommendations must be considered by the General Assembly.