WILLIAMSON – With a decrease in state funding and the possibility of positions being cut in local schools, the Mingo County Board of Education (BOE) and The American Federation of Teachers Union (AFT) expressed opinions on the need to reformulate the state aid formula used by Public School Support Program (PSSP).
According the West Virginia Department of Education, (WVDE) the PSSP, “is a basic foundation allowance program that provides funding to the local school districts for personnel salaries, employee benefit costs, transportation operating costs, general operating costs, substitute costs and allowances for faculty senates, instructional programs, increase in technology funding, and advanced placement programs. Additional allowances are provided for alternative education programs, increased enrollment, and other programs.”
Dr. Richard Duncan, Human Resources Director for Mingo County Schools feels that the formula needs adjustment to fit the needs of rural areas. “If you ask any rural county in the state or any county that is experiencing a declining population, you’ll hear that the formula needs an adjustment or a complete rewrite,” Duncan said.
Duncan explained his reasoning to support this statement, “For one, the formula funds the county, not each school. There is no consideration of where the students are in the county, only that they are here. If every school in the county had an equal number of first graders, second graders, etc. or, if they were evenly spread out in groups of 20 to 25, then that wouldn’t be a problem. But that is not what happens.”
He also discussed the problems associated with the service personnel formula. “The service personnel formula is a major problem. Each school needs a secretary, at least two cooks (for safety reasons, if nothing else), at least two custodians, enough Kindergarten and Pre-K aides to meet code, and a few bus operators to get the kids to school every day. It really doesn’t matter how many kids are in each school. You still need a certain number of folks working there,” Duncan said.
Duncan feels that the current formula does not take into account the mountainous geography of the area. “The solution from the state has always been to consolidate, and we’ve done plenty of that over the years, just about to the limit of how the geography in our county lets us. But we’re still well over the formula in service personnel. The formula, in a way, assumes that your county is flat, everyone is evenly spread out, and it’s easy to get around. I don’t think that describes any county in our state,” Duncan explained.
Another problem that Duncan explained is the fact that the formula is based on the county instead of individual schools saying, “I think the real problem is again that the formula funds whole counties, not individual schools. It just doesn’t take into account the challenging geography and needs across the state. A small factor was added for population density a few years back (which, by the way, is at the center of the debate over how it should be calculated correctly), but it was a minor adjustment at best. Ultimately, the Legislature needs to figure out how they want our schools to operate. They set the rules, the formulas, etc., and we work with what we are given. For now, we live under the mandate that counties are funded as a whole, so we have to operate as few school buildings as possible, fill up our classrooms to the maximums allowed by law, and reduce the number of personnel working in our schools every year that student enrollment drops. If the Legislature wants smaller class sizes, fewer consolidations, more service personnel in the schools, etc., then they need to change the formula to allow counties to accomplish this.”
Brandon Tinney, a representative from the Mingo and surrounding areas American Federation of Teachers, expressed a similar opinion at Tuesday’s BOE meeting. “I think it should be known that no county in W.Va. operates totally within the state aid formula. It is impossible to run an effective school system using only the money that the state provides. The state aid formula is so hard to understand that even the WVDE made many errors over the last five years and many counties were over paid with state aid money while many others were under paid. The state legislature needs to look at revamping this system so that school systems and the public can understand this complex funding system,” Tinney said.
(Courtney Pigman is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at [email protected], or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2279.)