The $126.5 million budget that Prince William Schools Superintendent Richard Johnson proposed to the School Board last week includes $15.7 million for salary and a 5 percent cost-of-living increase for teachers, administrators and support personnel.
The budget represents an increase of $18.1 million over last year and would require $7.7 million in local funds. An additional $9.2 million in state revenue would help pay for the increase, with $226,000 of that to be set aside to start a retirement fund for school employes.
Johnson had based his budget on expected state revenue of $1,890 per student in basic state aid; but the day after the board meeting the school administration heard from Richmond that the figure would be $1,901. Since an actuary must be hired first, the retirement plan will not be ready by March 6 when Johnson's line item budget goes to the school board for approval, school spokeswoman Kristy Larson said.
According to Larson, the difference will go into a retirement fund "because we had that in the budget last year and it got cut out."
The teacher salary increase would give all teachers a $2,100 raise, but beginning teachers with a bachelor's degree would benefit the most. Their salaries would go from $14,280 to $17,000, a proposal the School Board hopes will make Prince William more competitive with surrounding jurisdictions in attracting and retaining teachers. Last year, a survey of teacher salaries in 10 Virginia school districts with comparable student ratios rated Prince William ninth on the list.
Leaders of both the Prince William County Education Association and the county Federation of Teachers, which represent 2,100 members between them, told the board they supported the budget. Said Chairman Gerard Cleary: "Some people call Mr. Johnson 'King Richard' sometimes. If this budget is approved, they'll be calling him 'St. Richard.' "
After a March 13 public hearing and an expected March 20 vote by the School Board, the budget will go to the Board of Supervisors for a vote.
The proposed budget also includes $24,000 for science lab equipment, $155,000 for microcomputers and $25,000 to send selected county students to the Fairfax County high-tech high school in September. It also would add more than 147 new positions, including 37 posts to staff two new elementary schools slated to open in September. Eighteen of those positions are elementary school teachers who would be hired to eliminate combination classes in grades 1 through 3 and reduce the teacher-student ratio in those grades from 25 to 1 to 24 to 1.
Although members of the Board of Supervisors were cool to the $15.7 million teacher salary figure proposed at a recent dinner meeting between the two boards, some said last week they will support the new budget. Said Occoquan representative Kathleen Seefeldt, "The superintendent has put together a carefully crafted presentation. I intend to support it." Most board members met with Johnson and their School Board representatives to discuss the new budget after the meeting last week, something board Vice Chairman Joseph Reading said he does not intend to do.
"I don't see the necessity of meeting with Mr. Johnson and my School Board member vice chairman George Mullin on a school budget that will come before us anyway. I don't like to feel that pressure is being applied."
Reading indicated that he will not support the budget if it will require a tax increase, something the superintendent told the board would not be necessary.
Johnson based his optimism on the county's projected new revenue of $11 million, although County Executive Robert Noe predicted recently that new revenue will not be enough to cover both teacher salary increases and all other needs of county government. The supervisors are considering the implementation of a business license tax that could raise about $1.9 million annually. The new tax will go to public hearing next Tuesday and may reach a vote by March 19.