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PWCS Balances Budget, Keeps Popular Programs

| March 12, 2015 | 0 Comments | Education
Associate Superintendent David Cline presents the budget to the Prince William School Board.

Associate Superintendent David Cline presents the budget to the Prince William School Board during their March 11, 2015 work session.

At Wednesday night’s work session, the School Board approved the Superintendent’s plan to balance the budget without cutting any popular programs. The board also accepted one proposed change that would allow Prince William County Schools to hire more special education teachers and eliminate new proposed upper-level positions.

Associate Superintendent of Finance and Support Services, David Cline, presented a budget solution to the board that balanced the budget to the new tax rate of $1.122 for every $100 of residential real estate, by finding $8.6 million in savings.

The bulk of the savings would come from extending the bus replacement cycle. PWCS likes to replace their buses every 14 years as recommended by the state. However, they found that if they extend the replacement time they could save $5.4 million in the current budget.

While PWCS had planned to replace 151 buses in FY16, the school division will instead only replace 100 buses in the upcoming fiscal year. Those buses not replaced will be pushed back to be replaced in the out years of the five-year plan. However, it would also delay the replacement cycle, making it more of 15-year cycle that could take 14 years to get completely back on track.

Edward Bishop, Director of Transportation for the school division, told the board, “It’s a risk, but we think it’s somewhat manageable. Obviously, if there are any specific safety concerns relative to a bus, we will take it out of service.”

Bishop said that since they are currently short on drivers, there are buses that they have not used for a year or more. Thus, those buses have not incurred much wear and tear.

School Board member Lillie Jessie (Occoquan) asked questions about the safety of delaying the replacement. Bishop said that many jurisdiction run buses on much longer cycles and that his division would do regular maintenance on the vehicles. Bishop said he though the $5.4 million in savings is “pretty significant.”

Another place Cline suggested reductions was from the supply services to the tune of $113,671 as zero-based budgeting helped to identify those savings. However, that same process also recommended they add $178,375 to their accountability department.

Cline also recommended they take funds from kitchen upgrade services and instead moved them into food service to save the school division $650,000 in FY16.

Another way they could save money is by reducing the amount of funds in post-employment benefits by $800,000. This fund allows retirees to purchase health insurance within the PWCS group at a subsidized rate. Retirees will still be able to do so, and Cline said he believes the fund currently is over funded.

He also wants to cut $1.77 million from the vacancy fund as he found that fund too is usually over funded.

Cline said that in reducing funds they are taking on more risk but it is worth the savings.“To my mind, there is certainly a risk, certainly a benefit to doing this.” He said it is a better alternative to cutting programs.

The Superintendent’s new budget will also include pieces included in his original budget. These includes a step increase averaging 2.9 percent, but differing per employee, and also the reduction in the ninth-grade math-class sizes by one student across the school divison.

Cline explained to Bristow Beat that they did receive money from the state to help fund the step increase. However, the state is only funding approximately 1/3 of a 1.5 percent increase, so the most of the raise is coming from county taxes.

In a straw poll, five out of eight board members approved the Superintendent’s budget, which included all of Cline’s changes. Alyson Satterwhite (Gainesville), Lisa Bell (Neabsco) and Gil Trenum (Brentsville) voted against it, hoping to add some further alterations.

Chairman At-large Milt Johns directed School Board members to express their feeling on the budget and present proposed changes of their own. However, he said personally, he would be voting to adopt the budget as is.

Trenum proposed the only changes that did pass. He proposed the elimination of the two new upper-level positions the school division included in its budget, Division-Wide Athletic Director and School Improvement Position. Instead, he proposed their funding be redirected towards hiring new special education teachers.

He also recommended School Board members not receive a raise this coming year, and not fill the vacancy for a support position to aid their board.

Deputy Superintendent Rae Darlington defended the need for a School Improvement position to oversee and assist teachers, especially in such a large district.

However, Jessie seems to take umbrage with the way in which the position was advertised, saying that the division had already decided who would assume the new position.

School Board members supported Trenum unanimously, and the new budget was approved to include the reductions presented in Cline’s presentation plus Trenum’s amendment.

Throughout the process of reaching an agreement, the School Board discussed if the work session was the right time to be proposing last minute changes that would affect student academics.

Satterwhite, who was first to comment on the budget, had proposed the School Board eliminate PSAT and A.P. (Advanced Placement) test funding. She said funding would still be provided to those who could not afford to pay for their children to take those assessments. She also said the tests should not be mandatory.

She  then directed those funds be used to hire one new school psychologists and two new speech pathologists as the school division listed these positions among “critical unmet needs.”

While most members supported adding the three new positions, they felt they needed more time to decide upon her other proposed changes. And, as a result, her proposal failed.

Some members also felt strongly that the school division needed to continue funding A.P. and PSAT assessments.

Loree Williams (Woodbridge) thought many families who fell just above the line for funding assistance would choose not to take the tests. Dr. Michael Otaigbe (Cole) thought it was important to offer the tests to keep the schools’ SAT scores high and give students the necessary practice before taking the college entrance exam.

Bell explained how, while Satterwhite offered some are some good ideas, she would prefer discussing these kinds of changes in a separate meeting altogether. Everyone was concerned about time and did not think they should be making important changes while watching the clock.

Superintendent, Dr. Steven Walts informed the board that next fall they would be revising their strategic plan: the plan the board uses to outlines their priorities for the school division.

The board thus decided they would hold off on their suggestions, and propose them the next school year when there would be more time to discuss them together and openly in front of the community.

Most school board members were impressed by the savings Walts, Cline and their staff found. They were especially impressed that they could balance the budget without taking away those programs upon which parents, students and teachers relied.

However, since the cuts were relatively painless, Trenum questioned the need to advertize the dire situation the school division claimed to be in this fiscal year. He said to do so, they appear to be “crying wolf.”

 

We previously posted in error that the tax rate was 1.22 per $100 of assessed value, when it is 1.122 per $100 of assessed value. Updated, Mar. 13 at 12:45 p.m. 

© 2015, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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