Prince William School Board Approves Superintendent’s Budget

| March 20, 2014 | 0 Comments | Education

“For the moment we have a budget,” Chairman Milt Johns of the Prince William County School Board said late last night after his Board voted unanimously to accept the superintendent’s $1.29 billion dollar budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015.

The School Board FY15 Proposed Budget

The School Board accepted the superintendent’s proposed budget. Should it be enacted, it will provide 2 percent employee pay increases coming from the county. [The state will provide another 1 percent raise that will go directly to fund their retirement benefits.] It will also open new classes to reduce class sizes in the sixth grade by one student across the school division.

School Board members recognized that just because they approved the budget does not mean the budget will be enacted. The budget is based upon the advertised tax rate, but typically the Prince William Board of County Supervisors adopts a lower tax rate, forcing the school division to cut more from their budget.

Comments on the Budget

“I fully support the budget as presented now. I am sure we will be back to the drawing board if we do not get the advertised tax rate and depending also upon what the state decides to give us,” Woodbridge School Board member Loree Williams said.

However, not all School Board members were as “fully” satisfied with the budget. Gil Trenum (Brentsville), Alyson Satterwhite (Gainesville) and Lisa Bell (Neabsco) voted first for a substitute amendment that would provide more funds to reduce class sizes.

However, some of them also had positive comments about the budget, which did gain the Board’s approval.

Trenum praised senior staff members for their efforts on the budget, saying his budget committee had fewer questions this year. He went on record saying that if the budget needs to be revised, he would consider the, “sixth grade class size reduction as untouchable.”

Satterwhite was the least enthusiastic about the budget, saying she wished that class sizes had been more of a priority.

Dr. Michael Otaigbe (Coles) said the school system was a victim of its own success; he wonders if the school division would have to lose many teachers and have their test scores drop before they receive the funds they require from the BOCS.

Lillie Jessie (Occoquan) asked that she be able to visit classes in which there are 30 to 35 students. She said she saw not enough physical space as the primary concern for the school division, but she would like to see those classrooms herself, and then would like the School Board to recommend a reduction in these overcrowded classes, even if it could not be done within this budget cycle.

Substitute Motion

Before the School Board voted on the superintendent’s proposed budget, they entertained a substitute motion presented by Mr. Trenum. This budget would have funded additional reductions in class sizes by one additional grade, preferably kindergarten.

“After coming out of the work session last week, I felt I hadn’t done the best that my constituents deserved of me,” Trenum said. “I amend that we fully fund the ninth grade, or the elementary reduction in accordance with the superintendent’s plan, either one.”

Additionally, Trenum’s alternate budget would have included the addition of a $3 per student direct allocation to schools.

Trenum and Satterwhite worked with citizen volunteers to find savings in the budget. The savings he proposed would have come from the vehicle replacement budget and from professional development for teachers, from the antenna rental fund and by raising parking costs for seniors.

“Primarily, the biggest chunk was reducing the number of replacement vehicles by $600,000, {which still leaves] over 900,000 in the budget for replacement vehicles, which is more than what we’ve spent [in a year] over the last five years.”

Satterwhite advocated for the substitute budget.

“Yes, we are funding the sixth grade plan in this budget, but what is frustrating for me is we can’t do more, and I want us to do more. Reducing class sizes is our highest priority as well as teacher compensation,” she said.

She also said that funding a reduction in class sizes was necessary to get the approval of the BOCS.

“We really want the BOCS to take us seriously. If we can do more to enact reduction of class size and show we are making an honest effort,” she said.

Opposition to the Substitute Motion

Jessie said it was against their rules of order to bring up a substitute amendment to the budget.

“Number seven in my procedures says not to offer amendments to the budgets in open session as it is a duplicate of the work session,” Jessie said. “I think that we need to follow the procedures as outlined.”

She further said the substitute motion is inappropriate since the school division staff could not answer questions about the effects of the budget reductions. She said she trusted that staff understood the budget better than anyone. She did not like that Trenum’s plan eliminated or partially eliminated funding for professional development.

Dr. Otaigbe, Betty Covington (Potomac), Williams and Johns also voted against the substitute amendment. Trenum proposed a similar budget at the budget work session that was put to a straw vote. It also failed to pass.

Johns said they could revisit those ideas should they need to revise the budget.

Walts’ Additional Proposal

Superintendent Dr. Steven Walts proposed that should more funds become available, he would recommend funding the addition of more kindergarten through third grade teachers; this would cost nearly a million dollars.

“No, we don’t have the money in the budget,” Walts said. However, he asked that the Board revisit the issue should funds become available.

Walts said they could reduce the number of kindergarten assistant teachers and apply that savings to hiring more full-time teachers.

Jessie liked the idea saying that second grade is key to identifying the students who have trouble reading and rectifying that before they move onto the secondary grades.

© 2014, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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