Pr. William schools plan 'unprecedented' cuts

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 4, 2010

Prince William County School Superintendent Steven L. Walts has proposed a $762 million spending plan for next fiscal year that would increase class size, cut 700 jobs, charge new student fees for athletics and cut transportation to many magnet schools.

The budget proposal for the state's second-largest school system represents a 3 percent reduction in spending. At the same time, officials are budgeting for 3,564 additional students, a nearly 5 percent increase in enrollment.

"The word 'unprecedented' cannot capture the magnitude of the cuts," Walts said Wednesday night at a School Board meeting in Manassas.

Officials attributed a quarter of the school system's projected $80 million shortfall to a proposed freeze in the adjustment of a state funding formula that is intended to compensate school systems for enrollment growth and declining tax revenue. School Board members urged parents to contact their elected officials.

"The entire General Assembly needs to hear that this is not fair," said board member Don Richardson (Gainesville).

To bridge the shortfall, Walts plans to reduce central office administration by $15 million, freeze salaries, delay spending on technology and reduce the number of custodians and other support positions.

The proposal would also increase class size to the maximum allowed by state law. In middle and high school general education courses, that would mean an average increase of one student per class. In some kindergarten classes, and for classes for students learning English as a second language, the increase could be higher.

"It takes a lot of cutting to get to $80 million," Walts said.

The plan would also implement a $75 fee for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests, $100 for high school sports and $50 for middle school sports. Student parking fees would increase from $100 to $150.

A public hearing is scheduled for Monday at Stonewall Jackson High School. The School Board might make changes to the budget before approving it March 17 and sending it to the County Board of Supervisors for final approval.

Prince William is the latest school district in Northern Virginia to offer a bleak forecast.

Fairfax County Superintendent Jack D. Dale's proposed $2.3 billion budget for next fiscal year would increase class size by an average of one student, cut 600 positions, gut summer school, eliminate freshman sports and close an alternative school. Dale is forecasting deeper cuts if the county does not increase school funding by $58 million.

Loudoun County Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III's spending plan would also boost class size by one student. He is seeking a 4.4 percent increase to the school system's $730 million budget to accommodate increasing costs and 3,200 new students and to provide a 1 percent increase in school employees' salaries.

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