Prince William School Board Officially Approves Budget

| March 19, 2015 | 0 Comments | Education
Meeting of the Prince William County School Board, Mar. 18, 2015.

Meeting of the Prince William County School Board, Mar. 18, 2015.

The Prince William School Board officially approved their budget Wednesday with a unanimous vote after a delay over questions regarding the CIP (Capital Improvement Plan.)

Most School Board members were happy to have balanced the budget.

As discussed at their prior work session, the school division needed to find $8.6 million in savings to fund their priorities such as step increases for employees and reduction in class sizes for grade nine mathematics. The $8.6 million involved adding those costs while keeping the overall budget intact: not making any layoffs or slashing programs.

However, the school division had warned the community via their web page, and a glossy flyer sent home, that they might have to make difficult cuts this budget cycle. They cautioned “painful” cuts might include cutting popular programs such as full-day kindergarten, specialty programs or a number of other discretionary programs.

The direst situation resulted from the Board of County Supervisors setting the preliminary budget at a 1.3 percent increase over FY15. However, once the supervisors advertised the tax rate at a 3.88 increase, and the school division received some state funds, the school’s anticipated deficit shrunk from $17.5 to $8.6 million.

Thus, PWCS staff was able to fund the budget as well as new priorities without cutting programs. They accomplished this mainly by extending the school buses replacement cycle from 14 years to 15 years. That helped them to save over $5 million.

Also, they made cuts to allotments staff found to be overfunded in the previous years. These included supply services ($113,671), post-employment benefits ($800,000), kitchen-upgrade services ($650,000) and funding for vacancies ($1.77 million.)

At the work session, the board also adopted the amendment proposed by Brentsville School Board member Gil Trenum. The amendment specified that the School Board members would not receive a raise, and an unoccupied position to assist them would remain unfilled. Additionally, two upper-level positions would go unfilled. With those savings, the school division will instead hire new special education teachers.

Reaction to Budget

Chairman Milt Johns praised the School Board and School Administration for coming together to fund their priorities.

“This year really was a watershed year in our budget process…Basically, we were faced with a significant shortfall, and this board stepped up and said these are our top priorities: fund a step increases for teachers, fund the class size increases and then do everything else, and figure out where we need to make cuts. And I believe we finally put our money where our mouths are.”

However, some School Board members were less content with the budget as they had met with citizens and were hoping the budget cycle would allow them to find more savings in the budget. Some even came with proposals for budget reductions.

At last week’s work session, Gainesville School Board member Alyson Satterwhite had proposed an amendment to add psychologists and speech therapists to the staff. To help fund the new positions, she proposed the school division stop funding A.P. test and PSATs for those families who could afford to pay for them.

Although her amendment failed, she expressed Wednesday evening that she was relatively happy with the budget in its current state.

“I am definitely very excited that we do have the step increase, and we have the class size reduction also. I’m also very happy with Mr. Trenum’s resolution,” Satterwhite said. “Do I think we can do better? Yes, I do. I know we can still do more.”

She explained to parents that while she was looking for more cuts, they turned out to be unnecessary, which is good, because many of the programs were ones that no one wanted to see go.

“We thought we were facing $17 million in cuts,” she said, which made School Board members think: “Oh, my gosh, we have to come up with 17.5 million! Where is it going to come from?”

Trenum said he was not completely satisfied with the budget, but would support it since he proposed the amendment, and previous priorities in the budget.

“I do have concerns with the CIP; I have concerns with the budget. But, I am going to vote in support of the budget. Number one, I helped drive the setting of the priorities, and prioritizing a step increase for the teachers and class size reductions that are still in the budget. The second reason that I am going to vote for the budget is negotiating in good faith.”

Trenum added that in supporting the budget, he is allotting himself the opportunity to revisit the issue. However, when a member votes against a motion, he cannot revisit it.

Other School Board members expressed that they were happy with the budget and the work the superintendent, and associate superintendent David Cline did to prepare it.

Should the Board of County Supervisors reduce the real estate tax rate from $1.122 for $100 of assessed value to something lower, the School Board would need to find further savings to balance their budget.

Budget almost delayed

While the budget ultimately passed, it was delayed by questions regarding the CIP (Capital Improvement Plan). Specifically, School Board members asked whether the new school at the Ferlazzo Elementary site would be the Ferlazzo Elementary School, a community school or a replacement for Porter Traditional, a specialty or magnet school.

Lisa Bell (Neabsco), Betty Covington (Potomac) Trenum and Satterwhite voted to delay approving the CIP and the budget until community meetings could be held allowing for citizen input. After which time, they hoped to meet to help the school division to decide which school to build on the Ferlazzo site, which is located near Spriggs Road in the Coles District.

The vote to delay ended in a tie. Superintendent, Dr. Steven Walts, informed the board that they could approve the budget ant the CIP without deciding which school to build. Thus, they approved the budget. The issue of whether to build, a new Porter Traditional School or the Ferlazzo Elementary School, has not been settled.

© 2015, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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