Under-funding of East Cooper public schools

  • Wednesday, June 19, 2013

We have a funding challenge and an uphill battle for our East Cooper schools. The first reading of the Charleston County School District budget was last Monday.

Our schools east of the Cooper, especially our larger schools, continue to receive less per pupil funding and serve more diverse needs. The publicly available All Schools – Cost per Pupil document clearly shows just how low our funding has dropped. School board members need to support funding for the large school allocation modifications (currently in the budget) and increase funding at Wando High School to support its award-winning academic, arts and career technical education programs.

According to Kate Darby, Wando School Improvement Council Chair, Wando gives as many AP tests as any school in the district and has the highest passage rate. Without any extra teacher points.

Wando has 2,200 students taking CTE (Career Technical Education) classes and receives only five teacher points. The CTE school (Garrett) receives 17 teacher points and has an enrollment of 662.

At Wando we have more than a 1,000 students in poverty with no additional funding. We have more students in poverty than Greg Mathis Charter, Lincoln, Burke and St. Johns high schools combined, according to Darby.

Top colleges are looking for the highest performers who have taken the most challenging AP classes, and Wando’s future AP Academy will prepare those students to excel and be accepted to the best colleges. Wando has requested $60,000 to seed the AP Academy by offering summer sessions and tutoring and funding for five additional AP teacher points.

“We’re serving more AP opportunities than the magnet schools and have the highest passing rate on the AP test. We’re producing magnet-like results but not getting the funding to support it,” Allison Leggett, Wando School Improvement Council member said.

Wando High School is the highest performing high school in the district receiving the least in funding. We can’t continue to be the best when we get the worst in funding, added Darby.

The large schools, Wando, Cario, Pinckney and Laurel Hill, have more than 7,300 students on those two campuses. There are inherent challenges when dealing with a large student population that have to be addressed.

Wando is not designated “special” in any category: magnet, charter or high percentage of poverty. Wando is a community high school serving a diverse population and it’s performing as high, if not better, than the magnets or specialty schools and it certainly has the raw numbers on students in poverty. Wando needs the funding to support the schools within the school - the Wando academic magnet, school of the arts, Garrett/Technology, as well as our more than 1,000 students who live every day in poverty.

“To the argument of ‘economy of scale,’ schools aren’t like other entities. For every X number of students, we need another teacher. It’s just that simple. Yet our numbers don’t reflect that. The current formula (20.25 students divisor) is archaic, not equitable and not serving the needs of the students in the district. And once a school reaches a certain size there are significant needs that have to be met because of the pure scale or quantity of students on a campus. Adding one teacher at Wando, Cario, Pinckney and Laurel Hill doesn’t even make a dent in class sizes,” members of the Wando SIC say.

A budget workshop is scheduled at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday. According to Legget, “East Cooper residents realize that the district’s state funding has been impacted by the economy and changes in legislature (Act 388), but we also know that strong fiscal management in the last few years has improved the CCSD bottom line. Moultrie District 2 students shouldn’t be penalized for living east of the Cooper - with fast growth and therefore bigger schools and reduced funding.”

Our high performing schools need adequate support. Wando Principal Lucy Beckham has been incredibly creative in stretching dollars way beyond, but the school is now at the breaking point. She needs more teachers. She has been allocated funding for an additional two administrators. But she took the funding for administrators and redirected that to hire more teachers.

Leggett emphasized that Wando is not in a financial crisis, they’re trying to avoid one.

East Cooper schools represent 28 percent of the student population in Charleston County and only receive 23 percent of the funding. It’s our turn.

Reach Sully Witte at editor@moultrienews.com

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