Just one week ago, we wrote of the need for voters to pay attention to the promises the Prince William County School Board made in June regarding more funding for older schools and those that teach mostly low-income students.
At that time, we also expected the Prince William County Board of Supervisors to talk more about boosting school funding to rid the county of its more than 200 portable classroom trailers. Four supervisors pledged such funding during a June 18 discussion about a bond referendum for parks an road projects that will be put to voters in November.
But when the supervisors took a final vote on the referendum June 25, the talk of extra school funding all but fizzled out. Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, was the only supervisor to argue in favor of linking the bond package to a resolution promising more money for schools. When that didn't happen, Principi rightly voted against it.
Supervisors who made similar pledges the previous week – including Victor Angry, D-Neabsco; Maureen Caddigan, R-Potomac; and Marty Nohe, R-Coles – were silent on schools when the board voted 5 to 3 to place a list of $396 million in projects on the fall ballot.
Meanwhile, three other supervisors – Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan; Pete Candland, R-Gainesville; and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville – argued against a proposed resolution promising extra school funding. Anderson and Candland said they could not support the measure because it reaffirmed the revenue-sharing agreement that directs 57.23 percent of the county’s general fund revenue to the school division.
Lawson said she considers any promise to rid the county of its 206 portable classroom trailers unrealistic and disingenuous at a time of continued enrollment growth. Lawson also insisted the supervisors missed their chance to direct more money to schools, saying that should have happened during last spring’s budget debates.
We question the validity of that point, since pledges of extra school funding aren’t tied to any particular date.
Be that as it may, the back-and-forth about the need for more school funding was disappointing and just one of several reasons to question the supervisors’ decision to move forward with the bond referendum.
While we believe Prince William residents would support a bond package that comprehensively addresses the county’s needs, the proposal hammered out during the supervisors’ June 25 meeting falls far short of that goal.
For starters, the referendum includes a whopping $200 million toward a $300 million bypass for Va. 28. While the road is long overdue for significant improvements, it’s not clear Prince William County taxpayers should have shoulder the burden for that project alone.
The Virginia Department of Transportation is the primary source of funding for roads that cross county lines. That should make Va. 28 a prime target for state funding, which is already fueled by Prince William tax dollars. Borrowing an extra $200 million for Va. 28 improvements puts local taxpayers on the hook twice.
Beyond that, the bond referendum comes at a bad time. More than half of the supervisors won’t return to the board next year, meaning the projects included in the referendum package might not reflect the new leaders’ top priorities.
And that brings us back to those unsafe portable classroom trailers. The supervisors elected this fall will have fresh shot at working with the school board to finally move all our schoolchildren into safe brick-and-mortar school buildings. Let’s hope they do it.