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School budget proposal should prompt a debate

The pending budget decision by the Franklin County commissioners will be critical for the county school system -- but the process, dare we say logic, behind the eventual decision could be enlightening.

The school board is requesting $22,349,831 to fully fund the county schools for the 2019-20 school year.

That request, which includes an increase of $3,451,738 in operating funds, has been presented to the commissioners, although no decision is expected until May. The request represents a roughly 18 percent increase in operating funds over the current year funding level.

That's the big picture, but a breakdown helps indicate why this decision is so important -- and how it can impact the county school system for years.

Included in the request is about $2 million in operating money earmarked for pay increases for about 429 of the district's roughly 1,100 employees, those in non-certified positions like teacher aides, custodians, cafeteria workers, coaches, etc., people who haven't had a major raise in over a decade.

Granting that increase isn't a "one and done" decision because pay increases, once implemented, continue in succeeding years.

If approved, this decision will essentially raise the base cost of county schools by two million dollars a year in every subsequent budget.

Beyond that, there is a small budget increase in the request that also can have a profound effect on the county schools' future budgets.

The school board is requesting $60,000 to try to improve low student test scores of students at Franklinton Elementary.

Essentially, the district is proposing to pay teachers who commit to multi-year contracts at FES more per year than other teachers in an effort to stem rapid teacher turnover at the school.

In addition, the district is proposing to give FES teachers a performance bonus each year based on how their students perform.

If this idea works, it could be expanded to other, perhaps even all, schools in the district. That would have a potentially profound effect on future school budgets.

Frankly, these are the most significant changes in budget requests made by the school board in a long time.

That's not to say they are right or wrong, just that they can have a profound effect on local schools and funding levels.

That said, it will be fascinating to see if any of this sparks any discussion, debate or even response from the county's leadership.

Amazingly, as the county schools developed this budget request over the past two months or more, no one from the county administration bothered to attend a single meeting to hear the logic behind the requests.

That seems bizarre -- but it's typical for Franklin County government.

Instead, the county administration received a packaged budget request with only limited explanation for the requested changes.

Even worse, the commissioners haven't yet made an effort to ask questions or engage in a public dialogue with the people elected and appointed to run the county's education system.

In past years, this process has been opaque and frustrating. After receiving a budget request from the schools -- and with virtually no dialogue or discussion -- word has been handed down about what the county would fund for the education of Franklin County young people.

That left everyone wondering how that decision was made -- and most of the cynics among us suspecting that the process involved far too little analysis and far too much simple budget balancing.

But this year ought to be different.

This request makes profound changes in local school financing -- and it should be discussed, analyzed and evaluated with the effects of those changes in mind.

We hope that happens -- and happens in a public meeting.

But we've watched enough of this process over the years to expect that the final decision will just "magically" appear and we'll all be left to speculate how the decision was reached.


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Members Opinions:
April 20, 2019 at 1:10pm
The $60,000 is for Franklinton Middle School, not the elementary school.



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