Prince William school board members Alyson Satterwhite (Gainesville) and Shawn Brann (Acting-Brentsville) addressed pressing issues such as snow days, the 13th High School, teacher salaries and the school budget at their Gainesville-Brentsville budget town hall meeting held at Bull Run Middle School, Tuesday.
Addressing “snow days,” Brann explained that it is very unlikely the school division would be able to take any days off its calendar this year. The state requires 180 days of school or 990 hours. PWCS only built one extra day into the calendar and that was used for inauguration day.
Although the school division has many extra hours, it is unlikely those could provide a day off in lieu of an emergency closing. Taking hours off the school day is also unlikely as it would affect the entire bell schedule.
13th High School Location
Brann and Satterwhite shared that there has been a new proposed location for the 13th high school. It is north of Jiffy Lube Live on Progress Court. That site is a little bigger than the one previously proposed.
The high school is still scheduled to open in 2021. The land will have to be purchased by the school division. The new high school would relieve overcrowding at Patriot, Battlefield and Stonewall Jackson high schools.
Satterwhite is convinced the 500 plus additional seats will be utilized. Next year, Battlefield will be the most overcrowded high school in the county. She has requested modular trailers at that school.
“It involves your kids, and that is why it is so frustrating” said Satterwhite.“We need space for our kids.”
Western Transportation Center
The new western transportation center and bus depot will also be located adjacent to Jiffy Lube Live. Satterwhite said she was pleased with this location, having fought hard for her constituents not to have it located in a residential area.
More on the location of the school and transportation center will be discussed at the Thursday presentation meeting, at 7 p.m. at Gainesville Middle School.
PRICE Model for 13th High School
It is likely that the School Division will utilize the “Patriot- PRICE model,” which offers 502 additional seats than the 2,055 seat “Battlefield-Freedom” model. The larger school is the one included in the superintendent’s proposed budget.
In a phone call, Thursday, Justin Wilk, the Potomac School Board member, said that board members did not dispute its inclusion at their budget markup sessions, Wednesday. According to Brann, it could be approved within the budget when the school board votes on Mar. 15.
PRICE Model Special Meeting
Satterwhite maintains that the special meeting held Jan. 4, following the school board’s regular meeting, was legal according to Virginia Code and Roberts Rules, and thus the PRICE model should stand.
BOCS Funds to Pay for New Construction
Satterwhite and Brann explained the board of county supervisors agreed to pay $10.6, the difference in construction cost between the PRICE model and Battlefield model for the 13th high school. That amount would be paid over ten years concurrent with the debt service on the building.
They also pledged to provide another $10.6 million in a lump sum to help build a new school or school addition on the eastern end of the county.
Sattewhite wants the east and west to work together.
“What I see is a political play,” she said. “What I want to see happen is our two boards working together for the students.”
Eastern Construction via BOCS Funds
Brann said that the $10.6 for eastern development is being put toward elementary schools.
Wilk said they are purchasing land for a new “Cherry Hill” elementary schools, building an auxiliary gym at Mary Williams Elementary and moving up an elementary school in Occoquan by one year.
He believes it is a win-win for the entire county.
Regarding the 2-17-18 school division budget, the superintendent proposed a step increase, averaging 2.8 percent for employees. This would be in place of the previously proposed 2 percent pay increase. The steps would also be adjusted allowing for a higher starting salary.
According to the school board members, teachers felt strongly about receiving the step increase. Wilk said most educators still will not reach the top step before retirement since steps have been stalled for many years now.
Satterwhite said pay increases are necessary to attract and retain talented educators and compete with neighboring school divisions.
Satterwhite explained that overall next year’s budget will be tight. She credited the Brentsville-Gainesville budget committees for suggesting cost-savings in previous years. At this point, there is little extra cushioning in the budget, she said.
Due to budget limitations, there will be no new class size reductions. Funding for previous reductions will be maintained. A new IT information management system is required next year as the current one will no longer be serviced.
Possible Budget Savings
Satterwhite criticized some aspects in the budget, which she would like to see altered or removed. She felt $800,000 for school board members to have assistants is a price too high to pay even though it would streamline communications with constituents. Brann agreed.
Wilk said it has been taken out of the budget proposal.
Brann and Satterwhite disagreed with the need to hire instructional coaches for teachers, saying they would rather hire school counselors, psychologists and nurses, as a first line of defense against mental health concerns.
Satterwhite said she would continue to advocate for the best use of school funds, even though she would not specifically ask for higher taxes as many families are still struggling.
Other Markup Changes
Brann added a “Graduation Academy” during the budget markup, Wednesday evening. It is a accelerated summer school program to help seniors who are short a few credits or passing grades to be able to graduate before the next school year.
Additional School Board Meetings
Thursday evening, there will be a presentation on the new location of the 13th high school at 7 p.m. at Gainesville Middle School on Limestone Road in Gainesville.
Additionally, Justin Wilk (Potomac) and Diane Raulston (Neabsco) will hold a school board budget town hall at Fannie Fitzgerald Elementary School on Benita Fitzgerald Rive in Woodbridge to address concerns within those districts.
© 2017, Stacy Shaw. All rights reserved.