The Dollars and “Sense” of  Educating Our Children
By Linda McL
The author is the community relations specialist for Roanoke County Schools.
given the assignment of conducting the review. New Kent County and Richmond City also took part in this initial audit. Extensive interviews were conducted with administrators, staff, and external stakeholders in order to gather information about how Roanoke County Public Schools conducted their operations. Some of the noninstructional areas that were evaluated included facilities, food services, transportation, and technology.
In order to understand how school divisions can save money, it is important to understand how education is funded. With an enrollment of more than 14,000 students, Roanoke County Public Schools will spend an estimated $7,960 to educate each child during the 2004–2005 school year. Approximately 49 percent of the total cost per child is funded through local taxes. Each level of government gives varying amounts of money to their local school systems. In Roanoke County, a portion of local taxes like real estate and personal property taxes go toward education. The state contributes approximately 50 percent or just over $3,970 per child each year. The money Virginia provides is collected through sales tax, and other state taxes. The Commonwealth of Virginia determines how much money each public school system should receive by calculating a funding formula for Standards of Quality (SOQ). The Commonwealth uses real estate values, income of citizens and sales tax collections as part of this formula. Through this formula, the state calculates a total based only on the most basic level of services that the state deems appropriate. Virginia pledges to fund 55 percent of these basic services through state funding. Any services that are not outlined in the SOQ, must be funded by the school districts through other sources. Despite this shortfall, all schools in the Commonwealth are providing additional essential services above the “state standard” requirements. These services include: extra teachers to keep pupil/teacher ratios within the classroom in a manageable range in order to enhance learning capabilities for all students. Although music, art, and physical education teachers have traditionally not been included in the “standards” to be funded by the state, they will be funded in the 2004–2005 state budget. Roanoke County Public Schools makes these
ho says schools don’t operate like a business? Having spent time in the business sector before entering the educational arena, it is interesting to explore the similarities that exist between running a business and operating a school division. Both operate within strict perimeters of a budget, however, schools don’t generate profits, they simply produce futures—the future workforce, future tax payers, future citizens, and it all ties back to education. Just like a business with their audits and customer surveys, schools are facing new ways to track their accountabilities and measure the progress and success of the final product—their students. Governor Mark Warner, a successful businessman in his own right, has a clear understanding of how a school division is similar to a corporation. As a former venture capitalist, he has designed an plan to employ a business approach with schools to help them develop greater efficiency.
In September 2003, Governor Warner announced his intent to establish a pilot program to measure efficiencies in three school divisions within the state as part of his larger “Education for a Lifetime” initiative. The goal of the program is to assist local school divisions in finding savings in noninstructional areas that can be redirected to classroom instruction. This would put administrative savings back into the classroom for an even greater investment in the children. Roanoke County Public Schools in Roanoke, Virginia, is one of three school divisions that volunteered to participate in the assessment. Members of the best practices division of the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget were