City Leaders Speak Out On Local Composite Index

Mayor Dwight C. Jones, City Council President Kathy Graziano, School Board Chair Kim Bridges, and School Superintendent Dr. Yvonne Brandon

Regarding the Recent Proposal to "Unfreeze" the Local Composite Index of Ability to Pay for Education

City officials announced their disappointment in a recently proposed change to the introduced State budget involving the local composite index. The introduced State budget included a "freeze" on the local composite index, which is the measure of how much a locality can afford to pay for K-12 education. This freeze was extremely important to the city of Richmond, and most localities in the Richmond region.

"The proposal to 'unfreeze' the local composite index hits us at a most unfortunate time. We are in the process of assessing the first round of reductions to our schools, in the range of $13.7 million, from the introduced State budget. We are also balancing other potential cuts to our locality - another $7.8 million in cuts to police and sheriff's operations. We are looking at the potential losses to our own generated revenues.

"And now this proposed change presents the potential for another $11 million in budget cuts directly to our public schools system," said Mayor Dwight C. Jones. "It's unrealistic for anyone to think that we can afford to cut this much money from schools. If we had to replace cuts to public education alone, potentially totaling some $25 million so far, we would need to raise the real estate tax 12 and one-half cents. That is something we cannot do to our residents."

For the city of Richmond, the calculation of the Local Composite Index has been a point of contention for many years. The formula measures the ability of a locality to pay for education, but it does not take into account the needs of other students, nor does it take into account the other demands for services in the jurisdiction (like health, social services, law enforcement, road maintenance, etc.). While the measure has been flawed for decades, the newest revision is especially problematic, as it judges Richmond to be the most affluent jurisdiction in the area.

"This funding formula is fundamentally flawed and needs to be changed," said School Board Chair Kim Bridges. "The needs of the school system for our gifted students, general education, and specialty students are great. In addition to the 'normal' demands of school systems, we must provide adequate, appropriate services for about 800 students with limited English proficiency, almost 4,600 special education students, and the routine needs of 15,146 students who are eligible for the federal free lunch program. We are an urban school division with the strengths and problems that come with that character. We implore the legislature to help our children."

One our of four Richmond residents lives in poverty, more than 70% of Richmond Public Schools students are eligible for the free or reduced lunch program, and the poverty rate is expected to continue to increase due to the economic climate and high unemployment rates. "Any thinking person with even the most marginal information would know that Richmond is not the most affluent jurisdiction in the area. This clearly demonstrates the inherent problems with the composite index," said Mayor Jones.

The school system has been working diligently on a major effort to attract more students to City schools. "We firmly believe that we should have one of the premier systems in the region, if not the state," said School Superintendent Yvonne Brandon. "We have the talent, we have the positive attitude, and we have the community resources with our wonderful civic involvement and our institutions of higher education."

"I simply do not know of a good way to deal with a cut that represents $482 for every child in our school system. That is a loss of almost $10,000 for a classroom of 20 students. We are in the process of streamlining our administrative "overhead", but this additional $11 million in cuts will be very difficult, if not impossible, to handle. We simply cannot accept the level of cuts that are proposed. This isn't just a money issue, this is an issue of adequate education for our city's children," said School Superintendent Yvonne Brandon.

"Richmond City Council and I have been working hand-in-hand with the School System to save money by consolidating services and streamlining administrative costs," said Mayor Jones. "That is well underway, but the problem at hand is not a 'schools' problem; it is a community problem and it is a problem for our students."

City Council President Kathy Graziano said, "We all know there is a budget problem. We are seeing it in terms of local revenues, and in terms of state funding for police, jails, and social services and any number of service areas. However, education is a different type of service, and we have to talk about it differently. I do not see how the state can leave us holding the bag to pay for our schools, especially considering the level of need we have in this city. We are hopeful that the General Assembly can develop a strategy to help us with this critical problem."

"This is a matter that we will need the entire community's help with," said Mayor Jones. We invite Chesterfield, Henrico, and Hanover also to work with us toward an equitable solution for our region."