School Board Requests Restoration of Funds for Teachers, Class Sizes

| February 18, 2014 | 0 Comments | Education

School Board members Lillie Jessie, Gil Trenum and Betty Covington.

At the Feb. 5 School Board meeting, Potomac School Board member Betty Covington presented a resolution requesting the Prince William Board of County Supervisors restore $8.7 million to the Prince William County Public Schools.

The resolution passed the School Board unanimously.

The resolution begins, “WHEREAS, a quality education is essential to the life-long success of Prince William County Public Schools students.” It ends in asking that the Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) “undo the funding cuts that are currently planned for Prince William County five-year plan;” and “utilize the restored funds provided by this action to maintain programs and services and provide for a pay increase for teachers and other employees.”

Should the School Board members receive any additional funds to work with, the resolution promises they will use them for the “implementation of the Superintendent’s proposal for kindergarten, grade six, and grade nine, as presented to the BOCS on November 26.”

Every year the BOCS passes a new five-year plan. A sore point for many on the School Board is that each year the new plan tends to diminish funds the previous plan had indicated they would receive. With cuts to this long term plan, the School Board does not receive the opportunity to increase its spending in areas members see as a crucial need: teacher pay and additional teachers to reduce class sizes.

As a result of fewer revenue dollars, Prince William County has had lean years, leading to rising classroom sizes. Although the state has also decreased its portion of funding, insufficient funds via the BOCS is one of the primary reasons Prince William County Schools have the largest class sizes in the state.

This year, perhaps the School Board members thought things might transpire differently. They had met with the BOCS three times, and during those meetings, all parties agreed that reducing class sizes was a priority for the county. Moreover, there was every indication that real estate assessments were increasing, which ought to have resulted in increased revenue for the county.

However, things did not progress exactly as expected. Lower than expected commercial assessment led the BOCS not to recommend raising taxes; their new five-year plan reflects this shortfall. As a result, on the School Board side, revenue is expected to be short $8.7 million in FY 2015, and in total, the county will be short approximately $15 million.

According to the Superintendent’s plan, the school division will deal with the shortfall by not reducing class sizes in three grades across the district as they had hoped. Rather, Superintendent Steven Walts is recommending the School Board simply reduce class sizes in grades six.

Also, teachers and other employees will be receiving a one percent salary increase rather than a two percent salary increase, and will not be receiving any kind of step increase. However, even this salary increase may be in jeopardy if no additional spending is provided to the School Board.

Advocating for bigger salary increase for teachers, members of the PWEA (Prince William Education Association) and the Prince William Federation of Teachers endorsed Covington’s resolution at the Feb. 10 public meeting.

Bill Hosp, President of the Prince William Federation of Teachers, said members of his organization originally intended to push for a three percent salary increase for teachers, but in light of Covington’s resolution and the difficult fiscal year with sequestration, they agreed to support a more modest two percent increase instead.

Jim Livingston, President of the Prince William Education Association (PWEA) also said that next year’s funding is insufficient.

Covington’s resolution draws the comparison between the two percent salary increase she hopes to provide for teachers and the two percent increase county staff receives every other year as their raises alternates with step increases. Her resolution said that teachers as county employees ought to receive the same kind of compensation.However, county employees do contribute more to their benefits package than Prince William Public School employees do, with the exception of new teachers, who are paying more into towards Virginia Retirement System.

But Board of County Supervisors have their criticism of the School Board and how they have prioritized spending as well. Last night during a tele-town hall meeting, Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland agreed with a citizen who criticized how the school is building an almost $98 million dollar high school that includes two pools.

Candland responded that he wants to reduce class sizes, but wants stipulations that the schools will spend their money on teachers and reducing class sizes, not expensive new amenities. Whether BOCS members trust Ms. Covington’s resolution as that stipulation remains to be seen.

As for Candland’s electorate, in a poll question asking them to identify one  priority for education in the county out of four choices, new amenities was ranked forth behind reducing class sizes, “other” needs and increased pay for teachers. It could be backlash against the school pool, which has been less popular amongst citizens in western Prince William County. Gainesville School Board member Alyson Satterwhite and both Brentsville School Board member Gil Trenum and Brentsville District Supervisor Wally Covington both advocated against the pool.

 

© 2014, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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