Commentary: Students suffer when school budget is not fully funded

 

Every year during budget season in Shenandoah County,  the discussion is the same.  Are we going to raise taxes or are we going to cut? Public departments request more while vocal constituents strongly oppose, stating those agencies should function on less.

This isn’t Northern Virginia, community members on fixed incomes worry about ever-increasing taxes, the growth of government, and wasteful spending with hard-earned tax dollars. Our community has faced divisive issues and it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. Inaccuracies seem to spread faster than truth. But fiscally, data from credible sources prove we actually can afford to invest more into our community. Capacity exceeds effort, leaving perilous choices.

Every year school supporters must loudly advocate for funding. Therefore any tax increase is their fault, creating resentment. This inevitably leads to judgments on teacher and program worthiness and whether the school system is fiscally responsible. The harshest critics can’t actually be found in the schools for any significant amount of time, if at all. They are basing their conclusions on either their own childhood experiences, misconceptions, or the inaccurate rhetoric of others.

There isn’t enough money to fully fund the School Board’s proposed budget, yet again. They will need to make an impossible choice — take advantage of state money by matching it with local funds to provide a 2 percent average cost-of-living adjustment, or purchase a few items off a list of 45 needs. Opponents will call teachers selfish and blast the School Board for not spending their money wisely. But education experts have proven that teacher quality has an enormous impact on student learning. Additionally, it costs significant money to recruit and then replace personnel. It makes sense to invest in people versus infrastructure, programs, or materials since this impacts student learning the most and stimulates our local economy. It is shameful classroom materials and enriching programs can’t also be funded. Anything the School Board decides during the coming weeks when facing this impossible choice that has been dropped on their laps will leave needs unmet and our children without the educational resources they deserve.

These aren’t the conversations that forward-thinking communities that are concerned about attracting and keeping businesses and families have. What conversations are happening the other 11 months of the year? Voting “no” is no more of a productive, creative solution to our issues than simply increasing taxes every year is. It is a simple, unrealistic solution that requires little effort and planning. It is vital that the only option for generating revenue isn’t raising taxes.

I am a graduate of Central High School who chose to move back into the area, purchase a home, raise a family, and contribute to the local economy. I have formed relationships with neighbors, students, families of students, and have had an incredible amount of love and support shown to me by this community.  My intention was to stay here. But the main reason I am leaving Shenandoah County is because it is a priority for me to work, and for our children to attend school in an area where education is intentionally valued and invested in. I am just one small loss, but I have served my very best as an invested, dedicated, passionate teacher and community member.

I have witnessed an alarming loss of valuable programs, positions, instructional funds, and other opportunities for our students and staff since I first began teaching in 2006. I have seen the effects when our strongest educators leave for surrounding counties. I do not see significant wasteful spending. This county is facing an education crisis. One which can be remedied through efforts such as those by Parents’ Alliance for Strong Schools.

Our School Board and superintendent are finally putting forth a realistic needs-based budget, which is refreshing progress. Supporters should continue to make their voices heard. I hope individuals elected in November 2017 actually hear the overwheIming public sentiment that has been voiced in favor of funding the school system’s requests that currently falls on deaf ears with some current supervisors. Refusing to fund the needs of our schools jeopardizes our county’s future for the sake of pinching pennies today, especially since return on education investment is high.

Whatever the challenges, this community can work together to make funding public education an opportunity to invest in our county and our children versus a burden. Public discourse could focus on how to generate more revenue to enhance student experiences instead of making sure to remain at the most basic level of opportunity.

Jamie Nichols has been a resident of Shenandoah County since 1983. She has worked as an educator for Shenandoah County Public Schools since 2006 and was a homeowner in Woodstock from July 2009-April 2016.  

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