By the end of this week, the committee working for the passage of a $44.89 million school bond issue in Prince William County expects to run out of money, according to Donna Blanton, chairman of the Prince William Citizens for Quality Education.
So far, Blanton said, the group has raised only $3,300 of its $20,000 goal and is $2,700 in debt in its efforts to gain passage of the three-part bond referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot. If passed, the bond will finance construction of a high school, a middle school and two elementary schools, plus an addition to Dumfries Elementary School, all in the eastern end of the county where school crowding is particularly severe.
In a county where nine of the last 11 bond referendums have been defeated, school bond supporters fear that their cause might also be lost because they don't have the funds necessary to inform voters. "We have roughly 80,000 voters in the county. If you multiply that by postage alone, you come to $10,000," said Blanton.
Most contributions have come in $20 to $50 increments from small businesses, parents and PTAs, according to Blanton. The county's two chambers of commerce have endorsed the school bond.
The steering committee blames its shortage of funds on the fact that many of the county's large businesses and developers have not contributed.
Last year two organizations, Prince William Citizens for Better Roads and Prince William Forward, raised nearly $100,000 to finance the campaign for a $42 million bond issue for roads and other public improvements. Much of the money came from development and real estate businesses within the county. The measure failed last November.
Many of the same businesses were targeted this time for contributions of $200 to $500, according to Blanton. They received letters asking for funds and follow-up visits from members of the 16-member bond steering committee.
After Robert Wilcox, who heads the Calvert Co. and serves as president of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association, mailed a $200 contribution in August to the school bond steering committee, he received a thank-you letter saying that he was the only developer in the county who had contributed.
Since then, one other developer has given money to the group, according to Blanton. And the county's Board of Realtors has promised a $500 contribution -- it must be cleared first with the board's parent organization in Richmond. The money is expected by the end of October.
Wilcox said he thinks a lot of developers are "kind of gun shy" now, after the defeat of their very visible and well-financed campaign for the road bond last year.
"I got in there and twisted a lot of arms to raise money for the road bond effort," said Wilcox, who was chairman of Prince William Citizens for Better Roads. "I haven't been as active with the school bonds."
Much of last year's opposition to the road bonds was directed against development. Many opponents argued that improving the county's roads would result in more development, while supporters argued that more and better roads were needed to support existing growth. One developer fears that if developers get involved raising money for the school bond campaign, it will prompt similar opposition this time.
Tony Sala, senior vice president at Ridge Development, one of the developers of Lake Ridge, says he is an enthusiastic supporter of the school bond and plans to give time to campaign for it "one on one."
"I have two daughters in school here, and the bond is critical for the continued growth and development of our children."
But he added that his company has no plans to contribute to the bond steering committee for fear that developer support of the bond might be misconstrued by the public.
"I think that unfortunately some people might decide that a way to stop development is not to build schools for our children," he said. "I am very concerned lest people look at the school bond as a mandate for development."
Blanton says she thinks contributions from developers for the school bond would "help foster a more positive feeling toward them in the community.
"When we ask citizens for contributions, they usually say, 'I hope the developers are kicking into this, too,' " she said.
She added that she is sure developers want the bond to pass. "I have absolute confidence they'll vote for it."
So far, active opposition to the bond has not materialized. Claude Bradshaw, a resident of the Gainesville district in the county's far northwest and one of the most vociferous opponents of the road bond, says he supports the school bond.
Bradshaw, a history teacher at Stonewall Jackson High School, said he doesn't believe in bonds. "But here we are looking at a very compelling need," he said.
The Citizens for Quality Education begin canvassing in the middle of this month, with or without campaign leaflets.