Saying his budget reflects the “true needs” of the school division, Prince William Superintendent Steven Walts presented Wednesday a $1.24 billion spending plan for next school year that seeks more than $54 million in additional local funding, an amount that exceeds the county’s “revenue-sharing agreement” by more than $31 million.
It is Walts’ first budget request of the newly elected Prince William Board of County Supervisors, which has a Democratic majority for the first time in decades.
Many of the new supervisors campaigned on boosting teacher salaries and providing better funding local schools. Walts’ spending plan effectively asks they deliver on those promises.
Among other things, Walts budget would spend $44.7 million more on employee compensation, an amount that would fund both a “step” raise and cost-of-living increase for Prince William teachers and staff, boosting salaries by an average of 4.8%.
The budget also directs $5.5 million in new spending toward economically disadvantaged students and $5.1 million to expand the county preschool program by adding 20 new classes for a total of 49.
The budget also adds more than 60 new positions, including 11 additional social workers, one school psychologist, 50 full-time special education assistants, a chief equity officer and a Title IV officer.
Walts said the positions are aimed at adding both academic and emotional support for students to build on the nearly 50 new school counselor positions added this year.
“As the great Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle,’” Walts said during his presentation.
“And so, I can no longer wait for change to happen with the hope our children receive the necessary support. I must advocate for them; every year in a child’s education is irreplaceable.”
School Board Chairman Dr. Babur Lateef (At Large) called Walts’ budget both “courageous” and “historic.”
In his remarks, Lateef asked the public to support both Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s budget, which must be fully funded to realize Walts’ proposed budget, and to ask the board of supervisors “to help us fund these critical needs that have been historically underfunded.”
The request is not an effort to dismiss the revenue sharing agreement, which traditionally directs 57.23% of the county’s local tax revenue to local schools, but rather recognizes it as a “floor rather than a ceiling,” Lateef said, repeating a phrase he used repeatedly on the campaign trail last fall.
Given that Prince William schools’ per-pupil spending remains second to last among Washington-area schools -- a point Walts emphasized during his presentation -- it’s time the two county boards and the community “have a conversation” about school funding, Lateef said.
“I think we’ve been chronically underfunded in multiple areas,” leading to overcrowding, large class sizes and inadequate support for economically disadvantaged students, Lateef said. “This budget begins to address that.”
Walts' 5 priorities:
Walts broke down his spending plan into five priority areas: education equity and academic achievement; teacher and employee compensation; student mental health and wellness; career, military and college readiness; and sustainable facilities, school safety and support infrastructure.
Teacher and employee compensation would see a boost of $44.7 million, which includes $38 million to fund the step raise and 2% cost-of-living increase. The budget also allots $10.2 million to the county’s “pay-equity compensation plan,” which provides salary increases in targeted positions, as well as $6.2 million to cover a required increase in Virginia Retirement System contributions. Walts’ budget also spends $1.37 million on pay raises for bus drivers.
Walts’ budget also dedicates an extra $22.8 million to educational equity and academic achievement, including $5.5 million in additional funding for schools with high numbers of economically disadvantaged students.
Another $2 million would cover the special education teacher assistants, while $4.2 million would launch a four-year “digital equity” plan to eventually equip schools with one tablet computer for every three kindergarten through third grade students and a laptop for every fourth through 12th grader, according to Matthew Guilfoyle, the school division’s associate superintendent for communications and technology.
Walts would spend $2.1 million on student mental health and wellness, including $1.1 million for 11 new social workers and $350,000 for a psychologist, additional nurse position and a Title IX coordinator.
Career, military and college readiness would get a $4.8 million boost, including the addition of a culinary program at Gar-Field High School; $1 million to boost CTE technology assets; $600,000 for robotics and related programs; and $300,000 for a student enrollment and internship coordinator to boost participation in AP, IB, Cambridge and dual-enrollment courses.
To address the county’s ACT and SAT scores, which lag those of students in other Northern Virginia counties, the budget provides $150,000 to launch a prep program that would be available to all students, Walts said.
Finally, Walts’ budget dedicates an extra $10.5 million to “sustainable facilities,” school facilities and support infrastructure. That includes $4.1 million to improve the Brentsville District High School stadium and $1.6 million for a new turf field at Hylton High School.
The budget also includes an additional $3.2 million in debt service, bringing the school division’s annual mortgage payment for new construction and renovations to $109.4 million.
The school division’s 10-year capital improvement plan, which the school board will approve as part of the budget, includes the previously discussed $48.1 million plan to add windows to four of the county’s oldest high schools: Gar-Field, Osbourn Park, Stonewall Jackson, and Woodbridge.
The school division will open two new schools in the fall of 2021: the 13th high school, located near Jiffy Lube Live, and a new middle school at Potomac Shores.
The budget reflects an overall increase in the school division's operating fund budget next school year of about 9.1%, or $103.4 million, which is more than twice the $51 million increase the school division realized for this school year. The operating budget for fiscal year 2021 would be $1.237 billion, up from $1.13 billion this year.
That includes an increase of about 8.9% -- or $54.3 million -- in local funding from Prince William County, which is projected to rise from $612.5 to $666.9 million.
That’s nearly double the $28.4 million increase the school division received from county for the current school year.
The school division is also expecting a 2.1% boost in federal funding, or an additional $802,000. Federal funding is projected to total $38.5 million next year.
Prince William County Public Schools spent $11,875 per pupil this year and expects to spend $13,448 next year, according to Walts’ report.
Despite the increase, the school division will continue to spend more than $200 million less annually than neighboring Loudoun and Fairfax counties, where per-pupil spending is expected to rise to $16,277 and $16,639, respectively, according to Walts’ report.
The proposed budget relies on the county board of supervisors approving a real-estate tax rate that fully funds the school division’s budget. The supervisors have not yet discussed adjustments to county tax rates.
The school board will hold a public meeting on the budget and capital improvement plan on Monday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m., a public hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 7 p.m. and a budget work session at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 26.
The school board will mark up its budget, or make final changes, on Wednesday, March 11, and will approve its budget on Wednesday, March 18.
The school board will present its budget to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, March 31, at the county board’s 7:30 p.m. meeting at the James J. McCoart Administration Building in Woodbridge.
Reach Jill Palermo at email@example.com