The Prince William County School Board voted last week to approve $5.6 million in cuts from Superintendent Steven L. Walts’s budget for fiscal 2014. Walts amended his original budget to compensate for reduced funding from the state and county.
The board voted, 7 to 0, in favor of the revised budget, from $893.6 million to $888 million. Member Lisa E. Bell (Neabsco) did not attend the meeting.
Board members expressed dissatisfaction with the cuts but said they thought they had done the best they could with the shortfall they are facing.
“Is it the budget that we all like? No,”Chairman Milton C. Johns (At Large) said at the meeting. “It’s the budget that we have. . . . There’s something in it for everybody to hate, and that’s not a good thing, but the fact of the matter is we have to balance equities. Inevitably, there will be things that people won’t like. Unfortunately, we can’t make everyone happy, but I think we’ve done a good job for our community.”
Cuts were achieved in part by reductions in planned technology improvements and in exploring the expansion of the county’s specialty programs. The budget institutes across-the-board cuts in the schools and central offices. Each school will have to reduce its operating budget by half a percent; central office departments will cut their budgets by 1 percent.
Some departments, such as special education, will not be included in the across-the-board cuts because of federal requirements the county must meet, said Dave Cline, associate superintendent for finance and support services.
The budget preserves a 2 percent pay increase for eligible employees and another 1 percent increase to offset the new required contributions to the Virginia Retirement System. It maintains current class size, said Phil Kavits, director of communications services for the county schools.
Most of the talk during comment time focused on the proposed pool at the 12th high school, scheduled to open in the mid-county in 2016. Although a decision on whether to include a $10.5 million pool in the new school will not come until next year, many residents spoke in favor of the idea.
Most residents pointed out the importance of water safety, citing statistics that say drowning is the second-leading cause of death in children, and the health benefits of swimming. They also said the pool could provide access to swimming lessons for people who might not be able to afford classes otherwise.
“The time has come to give student swimmers the same opportunity to practice as our other competitive sports teams, on school sites,” Dominion Valley resident Donna Wadawski told the board. “The pool will also benefit all sports teams in their off-season by continuing ongoing conditioning by student athletes in a swimming pool. Participation in indoor pool activities will also encourage a healthier lifestyle for all students.”
No one spoke against the pool at the March 20 meeting. But in past weeks, residents have expressed concerns about spending money on a pool when Prince William’s average class size is among the highest in the state and financial support from the county government lags behind other Northern Virginia school districts.
The 2014 budget now goes to the Board of County Supervisors for approval. It could require further changes if supervisors decide to lower the advertised tax rate.
Johns said it’s possible the county will give schools a larger share of its budget. If the board gets any additional money from the county, Johns would like to use it to start reducing class sizes.