Four Prince William supervisors say they will not vote today to put a bond referendum for $600 million in parks and road projects on the ballot in November unless the board also pledges to help the school division fund a plan to rid the county of its portable classroom trailers.
But on the eve of the Tuesday vote, Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, criticized a proposed resolution addressing funding for school construction, saying it lacks “teeth.”
Principi further said he won’t support the resolution or the bond referendum unless the language pledging more money to the school division is strengthened.
“That resolution doesn’t do it,” Principi said Monday. “There’s not much in that resolution other than for [Superintendent Steven] Walts to come up with a plan. I will have to see a change to that resolution.”
Vote set for 7:30 p.m. meeting
The board is set to vote at their 7:30 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, June 25, on whether to place the bond referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot.
If the bond referendum wins the support of at least five supervisors, it’s is likely to be broken into three questions on the ballot: one addressing $400 million in new borrowing for 11 road projects and two addressing the proposed $200 million in parks projects.
One question would ask voters if they approve of borrowing $52.4 million for outdoor parks projects. Those projects would include $6 million in upgrades for Howison Park; $6 million for a new Neabsco park, $10.8 million in improvements for Long Park, $6 million in improvements for Fuller Heights Park and $23.6 million for new trails and open space.
The second question would ask for permission to borrow $147.6 million for five indoor recreation facilities. Those include a western county turf field dome, estimated to cost $4 million; an aquatics and fitness center in Woodbridge, estimated to cost $42 million; a western county indoor field house, estimated to cost $17.6 million; and the $84 million indoor track and field facility proposed for eastern Prince William.
Finally, that question will also include an expanded or new boat house on the Occoquan Reservoir for county crew teams.
In a memo released along with the supervisors’ agenda Monday, County Executive Chris Martino said he did not know how much it would cost to build or operate a new or expanded boat house. But Supervisor Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, asked the board June 18 to pledge at least $10 million toward such a project.
Schools construction won't be on the ballot
Along with Principi, Supervisors Victor Angry, D-Neabsco; Maureen Caddigan, R-Potomac; and Marty Nohe, R-Coles, all said June 18 that the board must either put the long-discussed $174 million plan to eliminate portable trailers on the ballot as a separate question or otherwise commit to funding it.
But according to Principi, the board will keep the school construction question off the ballot, as they were advised to do by county attorneys.
Board Chairman Corey Stewart, R-At Large, has said asking voters’ permission to build new schools is risky given the school division has been in near-constant growth mode for decades, adding at least one new school almost every year. As such, the county cannot wait for voters’ approval to borrow for new schools. In Virginia, borrowing for new school construction does not have to be approved by voters.
Principi stressed the safety issues inherent in teaching children outside brick-and-mortar school buildings as his primary reason for wanting the board to eliminate the portable trailers. There were 206 trailers in use across the county this past school year.
“These trailers are very much outside the physical perimeter and physical safety of the boundaries of the school,” Principi said. “I really think schools should be our first priority, and I cannot in good faith vote in favor of two or three [referendum] questions until I get some resolution, some understanding about what this board is going to do on schools.”
Nohe agreed the board needs to make a “robust” statement about school funding. Caddigan, a former school board member, said she would be a “traitor” if she didn’t make the same argument.
Some supervisors say school promise ‘premature’
But not all supervisors agreed the board should commit to helping the school board with the new construction.
Supervisors Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, called the commitment premature given that an audit of the school division’s student enrollment projections is still under way and not expected to be complete until later this summer.
School division officials have said two new elementary schools in the U.S. 1 corridor and about 50 additional middle school classrooms are needed to eliminate the trailers that will remain after planned new schools are complete.
The school division is in the process of building three schools: a 13th high school in Bristow, a new middle school at Potomac Shores and the John D. Jenkins Elementary School on Prince William Parkway in Lake Ridge.
The school division is already planning several more new schools and additions by 2029. In the next decade, it will add four new elementary schools; 11-room additions to three middle schools (Bull Run, Marsteller and Gainesville) and build a 14th high school, according to its most recent capital improvement plan.
Stewart stressed the need for voters to give their guidance to the new board that will be elected in November. At least half of the current supervisors will not return in 2020. Two opted not to seek re-election; two were beaten by primary challengers.
“This [referendum] would give the next board the tool it needs to improve” county infrastructure, Stewart said. “If we don’t grow our facilities, they are going to become more and more inadequate for the size of our population.”
Reach Jill Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org