Gainesville Supervisor Proposes Levy to Eliminate School Trailers, Reduce Class Sizes

| April 4, 2018 | 0 Comments | Education

Supervisor Pete Candland presents his school capital levy proposal at the April 3 Prince William Board of County Supervisors meeting.

Supervisor Pete Candland (R-Gainesville) revealed a proposal that would create a new “School Capital Fund” that would eliminate school trailers countywide and reduce class sizes.

He publicly presented the proposal following a presentation by the Prince William County School Board before the Board of County Supervisor, Wednesday evening.

The School Capital Fund would finance the School System’s 10-year supplemental construction plan for the purpose of building new schools and adding new classroom capacity to existing school sites. This project would require that creation of a dedicated levy and would total between $160-$180 million, depending on the final plan. The fund and levy would automatically “sunset” after the supplemental construction plan is financed.

The money would be specifically earmarked, and Candland believes this levy would cost the county less than raising the amount the county provides the school division within the revenue-sharing agreement. According to the revenue-sharing agreement, a funding increase to the school division would need to be balanced by a funding increase on the county side, costing the taxpayers nearly twice as much.

Candland said a bold move was required to fix a problem that has been mounting for decades. He called on both boards to “admit the seriousness of the problem, acknowledge the mistakes that caused the overcrowding, and take action to fix it.”

“Critics of the Board of County Supervisors point to the failure to hold developers responsible for higher proffers to build the schools needed for new students and for allowing rampant growth without the necessary infrastructure,” he said. “Critics of the School Board point to the building of the wrong kind of school facilities in the wrong places, extravagant spending decisions, and not drawing proper school boundaries to maximize building use.”

“We can debate all we want about the accuracy or fairness of those allegations, but the fact is we can no longer continue to have the same arguments and the same methods that got us into this position – it’s time for bold action to address the overcrowding in our schools and the hundreds of trailers countywide. The School Capital Fund will get our kids out of trailers and make class sizes more manageable.”

“This proposal is structured in a way that will offer the greatest amount of transparency to taxpayers and ensures that these funds will only be spent on the agreed upon school construction projects.”

Candland described himself as a “staunch fiscal conservative who has spent much of his time on the board fighting against extravagant expenditures and keeping the focus on the core responsibilities of government.” He believes that this proposal is in keeping with those principles.

“Any additional dollars this board decides to spend on education, must be outside of the revenue-sharing agreement, thus allowing for enhanced transparency and accountability to the citizens of Prince William County.”

However, since this revenue would be outside the normal revenue-sharing agreement, the school system would need to formally request the funds when needed.

Candland said the estimated $170 million is a number derived from the school division. While the division continues to build schools and additions through its capital improvement plan, the CIP plan has not been able to significantly reduce trailers and overcrowding due to new students continuing to move into the district. This supplemental money could help them catch up on construction without endangering its operating fund or incurring excessive debt.

During her budget presentation, School Board Vice Chairman Lillie Jessie of Occoquan explained that overcrowding is an issue on several fronts. It is more difficult to reduce class sizes if schools do not have the room for more classes. Trailers also pose safety and security risks.

Candland said he had already talked over the proposal with several of his board members and members of the school board and had gotten positive feedback.

While it is too late to include the proposal for FY19, he is laying the groundwork for it to be included in the FY20 budget. He said he would not want to rush the issue anyway. It requires a public hearing, and he would like enough time for constituents to properly digest it and provide feedback.

The county attorney said the proposal is legal, but suggested the board consult with the Attorney General to see the best way to proceed.

Candland told Bristow Beat the levy would amount to approximately half a cent increase when considered as part of the tax rate. He estimates it will come to a $8 flat rate per family. The tax rate is 1.125 for every $100 of assessed value, but that does not include tax levies such as the fire levy or gypsy moth levy.

Candland told Bristow Beat he believes this is a good time for the proposal and he now trusts members of both boards to work collaboratively. “We’re hopefully putting those extreme partisan attacked behind us. We can get back to the very nonpartisan discussion on who to better educate our kids.” 

Board leadership has not always taken kindly to taking direction from the board of county supervisors, asserting their board has control over the school division budget and almost rejected $22 million from the board of supervisors last year outside of the sharing agreement: half for expanding the 13th high school, and half for elementary school capital improvement on the eastern end of the county.

However, the two boards have been meeting for the specific purpose of looking at the CIP and strategizing on issues of how to fund new construction as well as how to purchase, swap or zone land for new construction.

Candland said he is hopeful this could signal the beginning of the two boards productively working together.

Proposal as submitted by Supervisor Candland:

Prince William County currently has the highest average class sizes in the Commonwealth of Virginia and hundreds of trailers across the county in all grade levels. With rampant housing development and approval in the early 2000’s, the county has faced challenges catching-up with the school infrastructure.

This proposal would develop a dedicated fund through a school capital levy that would finance a supplemental 10-yr. plan offered by the Prince William School Administration. This plan would build new schools and additions to existing ones in order to dramatically reduce the number of trailers and reduce average class sizes.

The estimated construction costs of this plan would be between $160-$180 million, depending on final plan accepted by both Boards. The goal would be to build cost-effective school buildings that maximize classroom capacity without extravagant amenities or expensive architectural excesses.

Revenue collection for the new School Capital Fund would begin in the FY20 budget. The funding mechanism would sunset once this 10-yr building plan is completely funded. Statutorily, this fund can only finance school construction or expansion and will only pay for those agreed upon projects.

The proposal would also include the following:

1) Creation of a BOCS/School Board Budget Committee to allow greater understanding of the school budgeting process.

2) Continuation of the BOCS/School Board Joint CIP Committee to include more in-depth briefings of school construction plans.

Proposed Timeline:

• The BOCS would request from the School Administration the details around their 10-yr supplemental plan.

• The BOCS would request that the CXO work with the budget staff to determine the annual funding needed and the corresponding financing schedule to cover the bonding for construction costs.

• Once the construction proposal is agreed upon between the two Boards, the BOCS would direct the CXO to spend the upcoming year working out the details with the School Board and ultimately include the funding plan in the proposed FY20 budget.

Parts of this article were derived from a press release submitted by Supervisor Pete Candland.

© 2018, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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