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Dobney ties school performance, funding

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Currituck County Schools used to be among the handful of top academic-performing school districts in the state but has lost ground over the past 10 years because of a declining level of funding, Currituck Board of Education Chairman Bill Dobney told his fellow board members recently.

Dobney presented slides at the board’s May 3 work session that showed Currituck had top-five state rankings in a number of subjects -- including best in the state in geometery -- about 15 years ago.

“That’s when we had what I considered appropriate funding,” Dobney said.

One year in the early 2000s, Dobney said, one school in the district was a school of distinction and all the others earned school of excellence recognition.

In contrast, Dobney noted, Currituck was ranked 31st in the state in 2015-2016 and 26th in 2016-2017.

Dobney said the Currituck Schools took a hit when the state’s small county supplemental funding was discontinued in 2009. He said he was elected to the board in 2010 and has been trying to get the funding caught up ever since. Between 2009 and 2017 the total amount of funding lost to the Currituck County Schools — because of the elimination of small county supplemental funding — was $13.4 million, according to Dobney’s presentation.

In addition, Dobney said, local funding has not increased proportionately as new schools were built and brought into operation.

Eventually the lower level of funding affects students’ academic achievement, Dobney said. “You can’t cut but so much before education is impacted.”

Dobney said he believes there’s a significant correlation between funding and educational achievement.

“We could be one of the top districts in the state again” if the schools were getting appropriate funding, Dobney said.

As part of the budget discussion Dobney took aim at the study conducted by Florida-based Evergreen Solutions, arguing the analyis was “skewed” by the priority to arrive at target expense objectives rather than evaluating operations and spending on their own merits.

Board member Will Crodick urged his fellow school officials to take a different approach in budget discussions with the county commissioners this year.

“I agree with you on your lack of funding,” Crodick said, but he added it’s not effective to begin a conversation with the county commissioners simply by asking for more money.

What is needed, according to Crodick, is a mutual understanding between the school board and the county commissioners around a common goal and an agreed-upon level of service that is desired by all parties. There’s no point in arguing about numbers until there is an agreement on a common goal and plan, Crodick said.

But board member Karen Etheridge said she doesn’t understand what’s so hard to see when the Currituck school district was number one in the state when it was receiving a higher level of funding.

“It’s right there in black and white,” Etheridge said, citing the information in Dobney’s presentation.

Etheridge said she wants to be able to work with the county commissioners.

“Its just very frustrating for me and I’m sure for the rest of the board,” Etheridge said.

Board member Janet Rose said she agrees that the schools have suffered due to lack of funding but also believes the school district needs to get the most bang for its buck.

“I think we need more communication with the commissioners,” Rose said.

Crodick said the school board can’t just go into a meeting with the county commissioners and argue about money. Instead, school officials need to explain the level of service that is needed, he said.

Etheridge, however, insisted the way achievement has declined with a lower level of funding speaks for itself.

“How much clearer can we make it?” Etheridge asked.

Currituck Schools Superintendent Mark Stefanik mentioned that he had put together responses to the Evergreen recommendations and had submitted those responses to the county within 30 days as county officials had requested. In that response he indicated that he thought a number of the recommendations were feasible to implement.

But Rose said some of those recommendations, such a charging the cost of mileage to the respective athletic programs, are not feasible in her opinion. She also said she is concerned about any proposal to change the way salary supplements are figured -- which was another Evergreen recommendation -- because she doesn’t want teachers to lose any money.

Stefanik said he would send a statement to county officials clarifying that “feasible” in this instance means “feasible to study.” He said he would study the issues further and bring back recommendations for the board of education to consider.

Rose said she thinks it’s a great idea to meet quarterly with the county commissioners.

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