County Leaders Discuss Taxes and Education in Committee of 100 Forum

| March 16, 2012 | 0 Comments | Community, News

Former PW Del. David Brickley stands with the panel: School Board Chairman Milt Johns, Occoquan District Board of County Supervisor Michael May, PWEA President Bonnie Klakowicz and Va State Senator Scott Lingamfelter.

There were no winners in the Prince William County Committee of 100 Forum on the evening of Mar. 15, when political officials restated their stance on the issue of school funding.

The forum was entitled “Are Higher Taxes the Magic Bullet for Keeping Prince William Schools Competitive, or Are There Other Options?” But rather than debating the merits of tax increases, lawmakers supported the advertised tax rate of 1.215 percent.

Member of the panel, with the exception of Prince William Education Association President Bonnie Klakowicz, opposed raising taxes. However a win for the taxpayers comes a steep price, as class sizes in Prince William will be at or near capacity next year.

As for Prince William County educators, they were promised a one-time two percent raise at the school board budget meeting Wed. evening, but many were not satisfied with that compromise. As such they plan to continue to convince the community to support a 2.85 step-increase.

Klakowicz represented the interests of the local educators, but many vocal proponents of the step increase also attended the meeting.

The first panelist, Prince William School Board Chairperson Milt Johns-R, asserted that Prince William County Schools were effectively doing “more with less.” Although PWCS spends an average of $9,888 per student compared with the $18,047 spent by top-spending Arlington County, Johns argued that Prince William still provides a quality education and continues to be nationally ranked. Moreover he touted that 77.3 percent of the school budget goes towards instruction.

Meanwhile Johns outlined the rising costs of education in the district. Over the past five years  population growth has increased at a rate of 15.5 percent for overall students and 37 percent for students receiving free or reduced lunches.

Brickley tells the audience how in 1976 he first introduced the bill, permitting school boards to be elected, but it did not became law until 1992.

Yet, Johns said the school board is unable to meet those necessary costs, as well as fund step increases for educators.

However, Johns said he supports the revenue sharing agreement between the school board and board of county supervisors, which allots 56.7 percent of county funds to go towards the public schools.

“It works in good times, and it needs to work in bad times. There is no guarantee we would get more money (without the agreement),” Johns said.

When Virginia State Senator Scott Lingamfelter-R (Prince William), spoke at the committee meeting, he said he expects that Richmond will contribute between 432 million and 437 million for education funding state-wide for fiscal year 2013.

“So it’s good news in so much that we are really trying to make an effort to help in education,” he said.

Lingamfelter said he always fights for his districts to receive cost of competing funds. However funds from Richmond will not change the paradigm as Superintendant Steven Walts had assumed funds would be restored, when creating the budget.

Board of County Supervisor from Occoquan District- R, Michael May, demonstrated that despite the three percent merit raises for county employees next year, everyone had experienced cuts. He showed the audience where the county had cut retirement contribution funds and froze raises for public employees who were not educators.

May also reminded the audience that this year the county was asked to pack back the Virginia Retirement System “to the tune of $32 million.”

Bonnie Klakowicz, President of the PWEA has supported the teachers work-to-rule efforts, and rallies for world-class education.

President of the Prince William Education Association, Bonnie Klakowicz, began her presentation with questions to audience.

“Who spends the least amount per student in the region?” “Who has the largest student ratio in the state?” “Who has increased class sizes at the middle school and high school level to the state maximum?”

To every question, educators responded, “Prince William County.”

“We are the ninth wealthiest county in the nation, yet we spend the lowest per pupil in the Northern Virginia,” said Klakowicz, who asked lawmakers not to cut taxes any further.

“A cut only strategy will damage the locality when prosperity returns,” said Klakowicz. “Take leadership in deciding how to adequately fund our schools.”

She also took issue with the school board for issuing one-time raises in place of step increases.

“We are the real job creators. We need to be treated as professionals. They need to be compensated for their experience and their expertise.”

In a questions and answer session, Committee of 100 members expressed concern for educators not receiving their steps, as well as the need to keep taxes relatively low. Some members questioned wasteful spending by the Kelly Center. But Johns said those small cost cutting measures would not put a dent in the budget.





© 2012, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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