Superintendent Dr. Steven L. Walts presented his proposed FY 2015 division-wide budget to the Prince William County School Board the evening of Feb. 5. Walts explains that with funds coming in lower than expected from the county and state, he will only be able to fund class size reductions for one grade and employee salary increases will be “modest.”
Instead of reducing class sizes in kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade mathematics as discussed with the Board of County Supervisors (BOCS), Walts proposed reducing only class sizes in sixth grade core subjects [math, language arts, science and social studies] by reducing the maximum class sizes in that grade by one student across the division. This will require the hiring of new teachers. The original, full-scale plan, would have require $3.5 million in additional county funds.
For employees, he proposed a “very modest” one percent pay increase. Actually, employees will receive a one percent pay increase from the state, combined with a one percent increase from the school division, but the state one percent will go directly to Virginia Retirement Services (VRS) funds.
Walts points out that should the division receive more money than expected from the state, he suggests it be applied to funding the two percent staff increases that he originally hoped to provide. However, regarding the one percent increases, he included the caveat, “this assumes we will see at least some restoration of projected funding reductions” meaning even the modest one percent increase cannot be guaranteed at this juncture.
Teachers who are new to the Virginia system will have to fund a greater percent of their VRS funds.
Walts’ budget is optimistic as it assumes the return of some budget cuts from the state and county. However, by the time the true numbers are in, it will be the decision of the School Board how those cuts or increases should be applied.
Walts’ spending plan totals $1.29 billion, including the school division’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). Of that amount, $995.1 million is dedicated to their operating and debt service budgets. The overall budget has increased by $32 million over FY14, but he explained that it’s still insufficient to fund the 2,054 new students entering the division, essentially providing enough funds for only 1,182 additional students.
The good news is Walts is not recommending a reduction of staff. Additionally, his plan recommends keeping such popular programs as Thomas Jefferson High School, specialty programs, robotics clubs and the Governor’s School at Innovation Park, George Mason Campus.
To explain the impact of 2,053 new students entering the division, Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Support Services David Cline compared it to building and opening a new high school every year. It increases CIP spending; new teachers, support staff, principals and other administrators need to be hired; new buses need to be purchased and drivers and mechanics will need to be hired as well. This essentially happens every year in the growing county.
While the general school population has grown at a rate of 15.6 percent over the past five years, free and reduced lunch students have grown at approximately double that rate, likely due to the economy, Cline said.
As a way to control costs, the school division has kept per pupil spending nearly stagnant, hovering around $10,000, for the past decade. Adjusting for inflation, students receive less every year. The amount of $10,000 in 2005 is worth only $8,309 in today’s market, staff graphs demonstrated.
PWCS spent $10,158 per student in FY14. A chart presented at the meeting, based upon information provided by the Washington Board of Education, showed that in the D.C. Metro region only Stafford and Culpepper fell behind Prince William in per pupil spending. Arlington spent $18,880 per student per this year; Fairfax spent $13,472; and Loudoun spent $11,638. Currently, even Prince George’s County and Manassas Park spends more per student than PWCS.
Consequentially, PWCS has the largest class sizes in the state. Walts said PWCS is still hailed as the best educational value, and has been named one of the best communities for young people.
Cline explained that PWCS is at the mercy of state and local budgets. Although county property values are up 7.5 percent, the BOCS is not raising taxes at a corresponding rate. Thus revenue for the school system still falls short of what is needed to reduce class sizes. Moreover, according to Cline, when property values are up in a jurisdiction, state cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) funds fall accordingly.
School Board members unanimously passed a motion requesting additional funds from the county as proposed by Betty Covington of the Dumfries district.
Some School Board members, such as Brentsville’s Gil Trenum, acknowledge that while home values are rising, take home pay remains stagnant for many people in the region. Some School Board members suggested that even if the BOCS will not raise taxes any more, perhaps the schools could get a bigger percentage of the revenue sharing agreement.
The superintendent’s budget is only a suggested budget. Now it is in the hands of the School Board, who can choose to adopt it or alter it as they see fit.
Walts notes that rising property values are a good sign that the county is emerging from the recession of the last six years.
More information about the superintendent’s budget proposal can be found on the Prince William County Schools website at pwcs.edu.
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