The Prince William County School Board presented a realistic Fiscal Year 18 budget at the Board of County Supervisors’ meeting, Tuesday evening, with an eye towards improvements.
In addition to the schools’ $1.14 billion budget, in keeping with the supervisor’s five-year-plan, the school board chairman presented a supplemental budget, listing the cost of common objectives such as class size reductions.
Prince William County Schools budget does not include any money for new class size reduction; however, Chairman At-large Ryan Sawyers detailed those costs within a supplemental budget that the superintendent’s staff prepared.
Sawyers explained the proposed budget is very similar to the FY17 budget, except that the school division will have to accommodate an estimation of 2,420 new students, which severely limits any new progress they hoped to make.
As a result, they are not moving forward on meeting common goals such as relieving overcrowded classrooms, getting students out of trailers, closing the achievement gap, hiring additional professionals and significantly increasing teacher salaries.
Due to a growing student population, there will be the same amount of trailers next year as last. While the school division is building schools and annexes, need is popping up in various neighborhoods, and they are not building fast enough rate to keep up with the rate of growth.
Sawyers acknowledged the effect larger class sizes have on the district as a whole. Not only do students experience overcrowding in their classes, but teachers and other professionals become overburdened with their case loads.
Large class sizes are in many ways the result of PWCS’s cost per student, which is the lowest in the D.C. metro area. Nearby school districts have more tax to work with to help fund schools, especially those closer to Washington, D.C.
However, there were positive aspects to the budget. It maintains all programs, hires more nurses, improves technological infrastructure and funds a summer Graduation Academy. It also continues to fund reductions in class sizes made in previous years.
The board has also provided a step increase raise for educators. To attract new talent, they have increased the starting salary by one step, and also added an additional step to the top of the scale, so veteran educators also receive a raise.
Within his presentation, Sawyers also presented a “supplemental budget,” which his board asked Superintendent, Dr. Steven L. Walts to have his staff create. It is not something the school division had done before. The supplemental budget lists the costs required to return the school division to 2007 levels of funding, which was prior to the great recession.
Sawyers repeatedly explained that it is not a “wish-list,” rather it should be seen as a starting point sparking a conversation between the boards, and a means to realistically assess their common goals for the school division.
Included in the list was the need for additional staff, especially in areas of special needs such as ESOL, physical therapy, special education and gifted education, plus regular education teachers for remediation. That would cost $6.4 million in one year to restore 2007 funding. That cost would need to be sustained and increased every year to keep those individuals employed.
However, the greatest cost by far is land acquisition and construction. Funding building space to reduce class sizes would cost $277 million on top of $288 million needed to house existing now being educated in mobile classrooms.
Other items listed include incidentals people do not usually think about such as additional technological improvements, and sewer improvements, which Sawyers joked is something he routinely receives emails about. The last item on the supplemental budget was administrative assistants for school board members, which was moved out of the primary budget. All together those items would equal $2.7 million.
The cost for administrative or executive assistants would be $900,000, which includes more than just salaries and benefits but also supplies to get them started and possibly office space. Sawyers said it sounds high, but in comparison, the supervisors have a $3 million-plus budget for their offices and aides.
Supervisors responded positively to the budget. Unlike in previous years, no one harshly questioned the chairman’s spending priorities. They also praised the six-person joint committee of the two board created to solve cooperatively capacity problems and work together towards land acquisition.
Likewise, Sawyers did not argue for the supplemental list, nor argue that the supervisors were in any way underfunding the schools. Everyone was cordial.
Woodbridge Supervisor Frank Principi (D) said the school division should look into opportunities to rent office space for some classrooms.
Maureen Caddigan (R), the Potomac Supervisor, said she was glad that the revenue sharing agreement between the two boards would remain.
© 2017, Stacy Shaw. All rights reserved.