This is not a banner year for the Prince William County School Budget. Prince William County Schools is putting themselves on a budget for the 2017-18 school year.
The division is expecting 2,420 new students at a cost of $26 million to the school budget. As a result, employees will only receive a two percent cost of living increase in their salaries.
Prince William County Superintendent Dr. Steven L. Walts introduced his budget to the school board, Wednesday, at their biweekly meeting. Associate Superintendent of Finance and Support Services David Cline followed with a lengthy presentation on the budget.
This is not a finalized budget. The school board can alter the superintendent’s budget and additional changes may be required after the Board of County Supervisors adopts its budget for the coming year as they retain taxing authority.
At the Wednesday meeting, Walts announced that while it is not the budget of their dreams, it will maintain existing programs and the incremental process they have made towards closing the class size. As such, it should not inhibit student success. However, it does largely constrain the school division from making great strides towards additional improvements.
In his presentation, Cline laid out the challenges it faces this upcoming year.
There is little leeway in reducing cost per pupil since PWCS only spends $10,981, which is the lowest in northern Virginia. Since 2009, the General Assembly has significantly reduced funding to Virginia Public Schools in various areas, leaving the localities to fund the difference. Over the years, PWCS has seen an increase in student groups that cost more money to educate.
Prince William County School’s total budget for Fiscal Year 2017-18 is $1.079 billion. Of that, $17 million of that will go towards increased compensation for employees. It may be disappointing that there will be no step increase this year; however, there will be a pay plan adjustment of two percent across the board.
Division funds will need to be put towards the Virginia Retirement System, but after this year, the VRS should be caught up. Health insurance rates have increased by one percent, which Cline explained is a very low increase relative to what other employers are seeing.
A new Student Information Management System will cost $6.4 million, but it is necessary since the vendor will no longer support their existing system. Equipment to support an increase in network bandwidth will cost $1.5 million. A general technology improvement plan will cost $.5 million.
New positions that the division will be investing include a nursing coordinator, performing arts teacher, division-wide student activities director. Osbourn Park High School will also receive funding for a pre-Governor’s school program. One time costs include a special education program review $150 thousand.
Over the next five years PWCS plans to build three new elementary schools, one new middle school, one new high school and replace one alternative school. They are planning additions to six existing elementary schools and two existing middle schools. Also, they will be adding a western transportation center, special needs transportation center and eastern area intake.
Projects that have been placed on hold include a new elementary school at Vint Hill in Nokesville and an elementary addition within the Haymarket area. Currently, many elementary schools in the western end of the county are under capacity.
Class size reductions continue to be something that PWCS is actively working towards. Though no new reductions have been announced at this time.
PWCS hopes to restore class sizes and teacher caseload to 2007 levels before the great recession hit. To do this, they will need to hire an average of 252 full time educators at a total cost of approximately $37.5 million over the next five years. In 2018, the division intends to put $6.4 million towards that goal. They hope to reduce portable classrooms as they build new schools and additions.
Closing the achievement gap will also require additional faculty according to Cline. They intend to hire one director of school improvement, 13 instructional coaches, and 36.5 teachers for specific learning disabilities for a total of approximately $4.5 million.
According to the proposed budget, PWCS intends to hire* full-time assistants for all school board members at a combined cost of approximately $800,000, which includes health insurance and supplies.
Cline noted that the budget for materials and supplies does not even keep up with inflation. This seems to be an area where corners are often cut and as a result PWCS has come under scrutiny for it with parents.
At the end of the budget presentation, Cline summarized the predicament, saying:
This budget attempts to meet need for programs and services essential to a quality education. We are not meeting the need to reduce class sizes, alleviate overcrowding, provide enough additional permanent building space, provide competitive salaries/benefits, or restore previous cuts. Impact on student performance will always be in hindsight.
This is not the most dire budget PWCS has experienced. In some previous years the school board looked at what programs could be cut in order to balance the budget.
Residents can contact their school board member or the chairman to comment on the budget, or they can speak at citizen’s time before school board meetings. School Board members had their first budget markup session, Feb. 6.
*Corrected as we originally thought the proposal was to share assistants.
© 2017, Stacy Shaw. All rights reserved.