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Doing the Math on Richmond’s School Funding

May 11, 2010

By Alli Atayee
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Since early March, the Richmond School Board, along with Mayor Dwight Jones, has been negotiating a budget for the 2010-11 school year. That budget proposal now must be presented to the City Council.

At the council level, the fiscal plan will be modified to reflect recent actions that the General Assembly has taken on school finance.

The budget has been calculated using the Local Composite Index, a formula that determines a school division’s ability to pay for public education. The LCI is based on three indicators:

  • True value of real property (weighted 50 percent)
  • Adjusted gross income (weighted 40 percent)
  • Taxable retail sales (weighted 10 percent)

Richmond’s LCI score has gone up sharply – from .4272 in 2008-10 to .4945 in 2010-12. As a result, local taxpayers would be expected to contribute more toward the school budget – and the state would contribute less.

Richmond stood to lose about $11.2 million in state funding. (At the same time, the LCI scores declined in several Northern Virginia school divisions, such as Fairfax and Loudoun counties; so they stood to gain a combined $97 million in additional state funds.)

Richmond officials have criticized the LCI formula, saying that it doesn’t take into account many variables that affect local school budgets.

“This funding formula is fundamentally flawed and needs to be changed,” said Richmond School Board Chair Kim Bridges.

She said the formula ignores such factors as health and social services, law enforcement and the poverty rate. “We are an urban school division with the strengths and problems that come with that character.”

Lynn Bragga, the budget and financial reporting director for the Richmond Public Schools, agrees. She noted that the LCI doesn’t reflect the demographics of Richmond’s schoolchildren.

According to Bragga, more than 75 percent of Richmond’s students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, compared with fewer than 25 percent for Fairfax County. Eligibility typically means children come from low-income homes and may need more resources to help them succeed in school, she said. That’s a big difference between urban and suburban schools.

Fortunately for Richmond, the General Assembly decided to cushion the financial blow posed by the changes in LCI scores.

For the coming year, lawmakers agreed not to reduce state funding to any school divisions whose LCI scores rose. For the following year, school divisions would have to absorb only 50 percent of the funding cuts dictated by the LCI changes.

That would give local schools time to adjust to the new fiscal realities.

Bragga says she knows that budget cuts have to come from somewhere, but it’s not going to make it easier. “No one’s really come up with anything better that doesn’t in some way negatively impact somebody.”

Richmond Schools Superintendent Yvonne Brandon worries that in all the number crunching, the most important aspect of public education will be forgotten.

“This isn’t just a money issue,” she said. “This is an issue of adequate education for our city’s children.”

Richmond City Public Schools: By the Numbers

Enrollment: 23,000 (elementary through high school)

Ethnic breakdown:

  • Black: 85%
  • White: 8%
  • Asian: 1%
  • Hispanic: 6%

Low-income students (eligible for free and reduced lunches): 73%

Budget for 2010-11: $241,748,599

Proposed budget cuts:

  • 118 positions (largely from retirements and other attribution)
  • Increase in K-12 class sizes
  • 6 percent reduction in support to regional programs
  • 15 percent reduction to summer school
  • 15 percent reduction to community-based partners
  • 50 percent reduction to employee tuition reimbursement
  • 15 percent across-the-board reductions to all non-personnel expenditures

Main Story: Nobody Loses in School Funding Battle