DCPS works to strike balance between cost, access to regional programs for students

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: May 9, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.

DINWIDDIE – As the end of the 2018-2019 school year approaches and, with it, the end of the 2019 fiscal year, the budget building process serves to not only create the guiding financial document for the upcoming financial year for the school division but also an opportunity to have broader conversations about school programs and funding.

Such was the case during Dr. Kari Weston’s budget presentation in April where the topic of regional programs was brought up by both the superintendent and members of the Dinwiddie County School Board, where they stressed the importance of providing the students with access to these programs, such as the Appomattox Regional and Rowanty Technical Center, while also being mindful of the costs associated with sending Dinwiddie’s young people to said programs. 

“We have a number of students who participate in regional programs and we certainly want to have that and we believe having those options for kids is very important,” Weston said during her budget presentation, adding, “But with that are increasing costs so, moving forward, we will need to be mindful of that and to be including that in our budget.”

At that time, Weston advised the school board they were expecting “a pretty substantial increase” at Rowanty Technical Center in Carson, where Dinwiddie is one of three localities, along with Prince George and Sussex, who sends students to the career and technical education center in neighboring Prince George, while costs remain “stable” at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School in Petersburg and newly formed computer science-focused high school CodeRVA in Richmond.

According to information provided by the school division, Dinwiddie County Public Schools takes part in three regional programs, ARGS, CodeRVA, and Rowanty Technical Center.

In terms of involvement, ARGS, CodeRVA, and Rowanty are measured by slots, with each slot representing one student from a member locality. For Dinwiddie County, the school division has 15 slots allocated to them at ARGS and three currently at CodeRVA, with school officials noting that will increase to four this coming school year. At Rowanty, Dinwiddie Schools said that “132 students account for 169 slots across both semesters” at the Carson facility.

With that membership comes per-pupil costs or tuition, that is paid by the member school division to the regional program to pay for a student’s attendance there. 

According to figures provided by Dinwiddie County Public Schools, the per-pupil costs of attendance to ARGS will rise next year from $6,994 per student to $7,294 as the school works to realign tuition with costs. Newly formed CodeRVA will see a modest $100 decrease in per-pupil tuition from $9,750 to $9,650 this coming school year. 

Regarding Rowanty, where Weston remarked they are seeing “a pretty substantial increase,” in costs, they note their tuition per student totals roughly $3,439 per semester, which figures to just short of $6,900 per school year, per student. School officials explained, unlike ARGS and CodeRVA where tuition is a fixed number, the tuition costs to Rowanty is “based on a five-year average” and Dinwiddie has had an increase in enrollment during that time. As a result, the school division “anticipates an increase of approximately $200,000 for 2020-2021,” something that would have to be factored into the 2021 Fiscal Year budget for Dinwiddie County Public Schools. 

Those tuition numbers were something that drew the attention of School Board member Barbara Pittman during last month’s discussions.

“ARGS, Rowanty, and CodeRVA are all great programs and we don’t want to not participate in them but the cost per student is staggering,” she said.

When asked, Weston said the school division is committed to providing students with access to these regional programs in an effort to make them into young adults ready for the transition beyond the classroom after graduation.

“Dinwiddie County Public Schools will create learning opportunities and pathways for our students to be life ready,” she explained. “When considering costs, we continue to work with our partners to ensure that students are participating in programs that are addressing students’ interests in areas that we do not offer. We do see the return on the investment based on the types of programs in which they are enrolled; their preparedness to enter into the workforce; and their readiness to be competitive in post-secondary education.”

While the cost of some programs continues to rise and as the school division expects a $200,000 increase in tuition costs during the 2020-2021 school year, the question develops of whether the school division would opt to offer more career and technical education courses at Dinwiddie High School as opposed to utilizing the regional center. 

In February, Dr. Royal Gurley, DCPS’ assistant superintendent said the school division and Rowanty “work collaboratively … to develop young learners into employees that will fill some of the industries’ most critically short fields.”

Those thoughts were echoed by Dr. Weston in an interview following her budget presentation.

“Our students have a high interest in the programs at Rowanty Technical Center,” she remarked. “We have created programs at Dinwiddie High School that have piqued the interests of our students, which has led to the increase in requests to attend Rowanty.”

One of the things Weston said during her budget presentation regarding upcoming tuition increases at Rowanty is that the school division currently sends more per-pupil funding to Rowanty for each Dinwiddie student who attends the center than the school division gets in revenue to cover per-pupil education costs if the student was not enrolled in a regional program, 

“With students that go to Rowanty, they still come to us for core classes and the like, yet we send more than the funding that we get for that student to Rowanty,” Weston remarked in April.

When asked, the superintendent said the school division remains committed to Rowanty and the programs it offers to the region’s students. 

“We intend to continue to structure our programming to supplement their existing programs, creating courses that are not offered there,” Weston said. “We also do not plan to duplicate those offerings nor do we have any plans to scale back our involvement.  Dinwiddie plans to maintain the successful partnership that we have had for several decades.”

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