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Quality education has cost

Posted: February 17, 2012 8:37 a.m.
Updated: February 20, 2012 5:00 a.m.

A community member asked me recently why I place so much emphasis on the budget. The exact words were, “I think that’s all you ever talk about.” I guess I have to plead guilty to keeping the budget as a front burner issue. When I think about the discussions I have about our schools with parents, staff, students and community members, most of these discussions revolve around smaller class sizes, additional academic and extracurricular programs, competitive compensation, materials and supplies, technology and additional staff in areas such as nursing, maintenance, classroom assistants and clerical. All of these are areas that would greatly benefit our schools, our students and our community. If our district can be competitive with our neighbors in the Midlands in these areas, it would certainly help promote economic development in Kershaw County. The common denominator is funding. I’ll be the first to tell you that money is not the only factor in a quality education, but I can also say without hesitation that quality education has costs.

It goes without saying that the economic downturn of the past three years has severely impacted our schools. Our current budget is about $9 million, or about 15 percent less, than it was three years ago. While it’s unrealistic to think that we’ll be able to restore everything we’ve had to reduce or eliminate over the past three years, I am hopeful that this year might be a little better. Therefore, the district conducted an online survey for about three weeks in late January to get a read on the community’s priorities. The response was very strong; almost 1,400 individuals participated. Respondents were asked to identify the three highest priorities for areas to be restored from a rather long list of what has been reduced or eliminated over the past three years. I think that was a bit frustrating for folks because the district’s needs go far beyond three areas. But the idea was to hone in on the most important and critical areas.

The results were interesting and enlightening. The three main areas identified by a very balanced cross section of staff, parents and other community members included reducing class size, providing pay increases for employees whose salaries have been frozen since 2008, and restoring teacher supply funds, which have been reduced from $250 to $100. Other areas that emerged included elimination of fees; increasing the number of school nurses; increasing opportunities in the arts, gifted education and foreign languages; adding 4K programs; restoring media center staff and funding; increasing extracurricular opportunities; and restoring field trip funding. What I found most interesting and insightful, however, were the comments. Over 200 participants chose to make comments. I wanted to share some of them:

“I am sorry that you asked for only three … I see other counties having programs and offering students so much more than we do … What could we do better to help our children get the quality education they deserve?”

“One of the most important jobs in America is teaching. Provide an incentive to keep the good ones.”

“As a parent, I believe the top priority is in the classroom by reducing the student/teacher ratio.”

“Too many children are entering kindergarten unprepared. Every child should have the opportunity to go to a 4K program and not be turned away or put on a waiting list.”

“My child is artistic … I would love her to have more options for art-related electives. It is also important to have increased teacher pay to stay competitive with Richland 2.”

“Foreign languages should be offered at the elementary level as well as the middle school. The window of opportunity for learning and retaining a foreign language is 1 to 12 years old.”

“Media programs have suffered greatly with the budget reductions and should be fully restored as well as additional monies for collections to be brought up to date.”

“Coaches have a strong influence on the students’ desire to be part of the school and to graduate. Students who participate in extracurricular activities are more likely to graduate and have a higher GPA. Stipends should be high enough to make it worth the time to be involved.”

“We must provide each child with the teachers needed to provide an engaging, challenging and well rounded education. Smaller class sizes, increased offerings of the arts and physical education and availability of remedial assistance will give our students a better opportunity to increase achievement, experience success and ultimately become productive citizens.”

What these comments indicate to me is that the community understands what it takes to provide our young people with an education that will maximize their potential and prepare them for their future. I hope that the survey and the budget process, both at the local and state level, will be an opportunity for the community to discuss its aspirations for the education of our young people with state and county leaders. The best time for this discussion each year is right now when the General Assembly and our local leaders are deliberating about the budget. 

I’m always pleased to talk with community members about our schools. My direct dial phone number is 425-8916 and my email is frank.morgan@kcsdschools.net. Citizens can also contact me through the “Ask the Super” link on the homepage of the district website. I also invite folks to read my “blog” and listen to the podcast I record after each school board meeting with meeting highlights.Both of these, and a whole lot more, can be accessed at www.kershaw.k12.sc.us.

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