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After reading about the joint meeting of the School Board and the Board of Supervisors regarding the school budget (Feb 11), I suggest this paper investigate in greater depth the Local Composite Index (LCI), the calculation used by the state to allocate funding to school districts, and how it affects so adversely the funding provided by the state to Rappahannock’s schools. This is not a new issue, our state funding has been dropping for quite some time. I also wonder whether the Board of Supervisors has dug deeper into this issue, how it works, what could be done, and what the implications are for addressing it.
From publicly available data on the state’s department of education site, of the 207 county and city school districts in Virginia, Rappahannock is one of only eight to have LCI scores so high that they generate the lowest state funding possible. These calculations are based primarily on property values and incomes. Nearly 10% of our citizens are below the federal poverty level. The same is true for surrounding counties but they get at least 25-30% more state funding. One reason is that our county ranks much higher in national and state rankings of income inequality. Of all 207 Virginia school districts we rank fifth in per capita property tax value and twelfth in per capita income. Wow!
The problem appears to be that the LCI does not take into account unusually wide disparities in incomes and property values, especially in small counties. Basically every time more wealthy folks move in and build expensive homes, and report high levels of annual income as county residents, we lose more state tax funding for our schools. So either our schools suffer, or we raise property taxes, or we find other ways to deal with the problem.
We need leadership to look for serious solutions to this problem. Has the Board of Supervisors looked into ways to get the state LCI process to be more fair and equitable for our county? And are our state delegate [Michael] Webert and senator [Mark] Obenshain working in Richmond to help make that happen?
Have our supervisors explored ways to increase our property tax revenues in a way that won’t hurt the folks at the bottom of the wealth ladder? For example, the counties around us have an Open Space designation, which is permitted by the Virginia tax code as an alternative to land use for tax abatements. It allows the county to collect taxes at a level higher than land use but lower than full taxation. Have they looked into that as a way to increase our tax revenue in a manner that would still retain our beautiful view shed? I bet a lot of folks would be happy to pay somewhat higher taxes to avoid the hassle and costs of maintaining land use.
It is time we held our leaders accountable for solving these problems, rather than constantly dealing with political side shows.
The writer lives in Castleton.