Prince William school board approves $760 million budget, job cuts

By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Prince William County School Board adopted a $760 million operating budget Wednesday that will cut more than 200 jobs, freeze salaries and raise class sizes in many grades.

Even deeper cuts were anticipated, but the system's fiscal forecast brightened over the past month with an increase in state funding. Superintendent Steven L. Walts outlined what he called an "unprecedented" spending plan last month that included eliminating more than 700 jobs, increasing class sizes to the maximum allowed by the state, and introducing new student fees for sports and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests.

Since then, the approved state budget took some of the sting out of budget cuts predicted for schools in Prince William and throughout Northern Virginia. A readjusted funding formula brought more than $100 million in additional state aid to the suburban school divisions. State lawmakers also reduced school districts' contribution to the state employees retirement system for the coming year, freeing additional funds.

In Fairfax, Superintendent Jack D. Dale took a proposed class size increase off the table after the state budget was approved. Loudoun County schools also stand to benefit from additional state aid, although county supervisors are considering a reduction in local education funding.

In Prince William, the school system's budget shortfall dropped from $79 million to about $48 million. In a budget work session last week, the School Board elected to eliminate the proposed student activity fees and to increase class size, but not as dramatically. The maximum class size for kindergarten will grow from an average 28 to 29, and middle and high school classes are expected to grow slightly. Students learning English as a second language would see the biggest difference, with average class sizes growing from 29 to 34.

The School Board also is expected to reduce spending in almost every department. Allocations for kindergarten teachers' assistants, high school career counselors, custodians and transportation will be trimmed.

The schools' spending plan will be finalized after county supervisors approve their budget next month. It is expected to include about $400 million for the public schools.

Prince William, the state's second-largest school system, has 76,600 students and was strained by an unexpected boost in enrollment this year. For next year, school officials are budgeting for 3,564 additional students, with an estimated price tag of $34 million. The nearly 5 percent increase in enrollment has been fueled in part by a boom in the housing market in neighborhoods that were hard hit by foreclosures and depreciating home values.

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