After more than a year of debate, the PRICE design for the 13th high school to be built in Bristow was approved by the Prince William County School Board.
In a special meeting that almost did not happen, Wednesday night, the school board approved the PRICE (Patriot Redesign Increasing Capacity Effectively) model, agreeing to accept the County Board of Supervisors $21.2 million grant.
School board members agreed to use the funds for the supervisors’ intended purposes.
Ten million six hundred thousand is the difference between cost of the PRICE model, which sits 500 more students, and the Battlefield design. That money for that school would be provided in piecemeal to help with debt service.
However, before that, another $10.6 million would be provided in a lump sum to fund an eastern school.
Five school board members voted for the resolution: Alyson Satterwhite (Gainesville), Shawn Brann (Brentsville), Willie Deutsch (Coles), Justin Wilk (Potomac) and Diane Raulston (Neabsco).
The discussion became very contentious during board members’ time. Brann called Chairman At-large Ryan Sawyers a “tyrannical,” “bully.”
Satterwhite argued she and Brann were within their right to call a meeting without the chairman. She detailed how she first sent an announcement to all school board members and the school attorney, yet Sawyers claimed he found out only from a press release.
She accused Sawyers of bullying staff to cancel the meeting, making public the board’s behalf and calling for an expedited board poll against school board policy.
“Why would the chairman go to such length to go against a resolution that offers $21.2 million to our students? To fight against this just doesn’t make sense. What school board in their right mind would turn down [this much money] in addition to the regular budget?” she asked.
Chairman Sawyers refuted Sattewhite’s accusations, saying they called the meeting without enough notice.* He said he was out of town, and saw the press release first, and then issued a board poll to make sure members wanted to hold the meeting.
“Nobody is preventing a discussion,” he said, saying he wanted to wait until after meeting with supervisors.
However, saying he has the authority to interpret policy, Sawyers said he would deny the meeting, claiming it breaks the law governing how a school board and county supervisors ought to interact.
School Counsel Mary McGowan she said it is a “slipper slope,” but did not outright agree with Sawyers.
“[The Board of County Supervisors] has no legal authority to condition your funds to the school board. [However,] it is up to the school board whether or not to accept funds,” she said, noting that similar agreements have been made in the past.
Sawyers said he would be happy to accept the funds then decide how to allocate them. “I will never, never ever turn down a penny from the board of county supervisors, but they need to realize it is our sole authority [to decide how] to spend it [outside of nine spending categories].”
Deutsch, supporting the proposal, showed a post from Democrat Harry Wiggins, saying no schools should be built west of Hoadley Road.
“That it is the official line of the Democratic party that some students matter and others don’t, should be concerning to everyone,” Deutsch said.
Wilk, who previously voted for the PRICE model, said he would not support the resolution in interviews. However, he changed his mind, saying he felt assured by the supervisors that money for the eastern school would be provided quickly.
Lillie Jessie of the Occoquan district remained vehemently opposed to the resolution.
“We are voting for a school that does not exist,” she said. “You are asking me to vote on a third, fourth vote on that model,” which she said violates the board’s code of ethics.
“You have had your turn. You have 23 schools under capacity. It’s our turn now. It’s time for the kids on the east,” she said, mostly talking about elementary schools, but also noting Brentsville and Osbourn Park high schools are also under capacity.
However, populations at schools the 13th high school would serve- Stonewall Jackson, Patriot and Battlefield- are projected to be extremely over capacity by the time the new school opens in 2021.
At the end of the regular meeting, Chairman Ryan Sawyers announced that there would be no meeting and left the room.
One woman called out “shame” and one man said he would be right outside with a petition to recall Sawyers.
A five-member quorum of school board members remained at the front dais, intending to hold the meeting with or without the other three. The three members then returned to conduct the special meeting.
Lillie Jessie and Loree Williams (Woodbridge) remained opposed to accepting funds.
Williams said the supervisors are willing to throw money at something they want. She asked where was the money when they requested it last year, even when they asked for $2 million for a pre-K program.
“Now we are responsible enough to receive $21 million, and maybe do something on the eastern end,” Williams said.
Wilks suggested delaying the vote, and Williams made the motion to suspend until after school board talks to the supervisors in person. That resolution failed.
Raulston, who would be the fifth supporter, said she would support the motion.
“I want to take the money, I really, really do. Anything that can help on the east and on the west,” she said. “It seems a little idiotic not to accept the money.”
Emotions ran high and Jessie threatened to have a citizen in the front row thrown out of the room for mouthing something under his breath during discussions.
When it came for a vote, Jessie, Williams and Sawyers opposed. The motion passed 5-3 and the special meeting was adjourned after midnight.
*There is some disagreement on the board as to the interpretation of Policy 131 governing the calling of a board meeting.
© 2017, Stacy Shaw. All rights reserved.