Two cents for two schools

My latest op-ed, title above, appeared in The Virginian-Pilot Wednesday. Norfolk’s mayor, at the council retreat this week, proposed a two-cent increase in the real estate tax rate to cover the debt service on the cost of building two schools. As an advocate for – and a product of – public schools, I believe it to be a worthy investment.

The tax hike is going to be a hard sell, though, in light of the report that 14 of the city’s 45 schools failed to win accreditation – putting them at the bottom of school divisions in the state. This didn’t happen overnight – Norfolk has neglected its investment in the school system, the result being this. Norfolk Gains, a community group dedicated to a “fully funded, vibrant public school system,” has identified seven challenges that the division faces which need to be addressed in order for that goal to be reached. The crumbling infrastructure made the list.

From where I sit, perhaps the biggest challenge is that too many Norfolk residents do not have children in public schools, either because they don’t have school-age children or because their kids are in private school. Both groups need to be convinced that an investment in our public schools is beneficial to them. Because of my own research, I believe such an investment is beneficial to me, as a taxpayer without children. But the “leadership” of our city has failed to make the case.

Such a failure is what leads to more and more parents putting their kids in private school, leaving behind those who lack the resources to do so. And such a failure, combined with the increasing sentiment that government is not the answer to any problem, leaves us where we are today.

I really wish Norfolk’s so-called “leaders” – the elected council and the appointed school board – would step up to the plate and lay out a comprehensive plan for improving our school systems. Otherwise, I won’t be surprised to see even more school failures in our future, not to mention a further shrinking of the population as folks flee the city (again) for greener pastures in the surrounding localities.

My column appears in The Virginian-Pilot on Wednesdays (unless something comes up, in which case it’s Thursdays). You can see the columns as they are published here, or navigate to them from the homepage by clicking on Opinion and then choosing my name at the bottom of the dropdown list. You can also see the columns by liking my Facebook page. Although my column appears weekly, I am not and have never been an employee of The Virginian-Pilot.

3 thoughts on “Two cents for two schools

  1. I’m a little confused. “[If] our property values increased just 2 percent, the average homeowner would pay an extra $40 a year at the current rate.”

    Wouldn’t that be $44.40? A 2% increase on $200,000 is $4000. At $1.11 tax per $100 value, that’s $44.40.

    Anyway…. The city definitely needs to build schools. The downside is, Norfolk already has the second highest real estate tax rates in the region. However, even the additional two cents won’t get it close to Portsmouth’s $1.27, so the increase is not likely to change the dynamics of the regional market.

  2. Every 2 years, Virginia’s State Board of Education conducts a review of the Standards of Quality, which are the delivery system for our SOL. The current review period ends in November, with written comments accepted thru November 15. Four public hearings will be held, statewide, in October, one in Tidewater. Historically, the state sets the standards, tells localities how they can raise revenue, legislates how much money the state will return of the revenue it has collected, and leaves the locality to fill in gaps. For example, the state says a 1-25 teacher-student ratio is adequate, Locals want to do better, say 1-22, locals pick up the difference. Virginia ranks among the wealthiest states, but comes in 35th in support of public education. Concerned citizens need to let their state legislators know they will be paying attention during the coming General Assembly when legislators are voting on funding public education.

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