For the first time in memory, Prince William County school officials are proposing no new building or maintenance projects for the fiscal year that begins in July.
A bare-bones six-year Capital Improvements Program, described as "very austere" by Associate Superintendent Robert Ferrebee, was presented to the School Board last week. The plan details $154.9 million in proposed spending over the next six years -- $30 million less than was projected in the current building plan -- with most of the projects scheduled for 1994 and beyond.
The bulk of the $154 million is designated for 12 new schools to meet a slowed but still growing student enrollment in the county.
The first of these new schools, Kahns Road and another elementary school in the Gainesville area, have been delayed again and are now proposed for funding in fiscal 1993 and completion in September 1994.
Most projects in the building plan have been pushed back two years, Ferrebee said, reflecting some "tough times" ahead. Under the proposal, installing air-conditioning at the eight county schools that do not have it would be put off until 1994, at the earliest.
Superintendent Edward L. Kelly said that because the financial difficulties facing the schools are not widely known in the community, it may be difficult to explain to people why the school system can't move forward faster on their pet projects.
The state of Virginia, caught in a budget crunch, has cut funding to Prince William schools by $5.5 million for next year, although bills before the legislature could restore some of the money.
Kelly said there may be pressure to dip into a projected $9 million construction fund that school officials propose to hold in reserve for future needs.
Although enrollment projections have slowed, the county is still forecasting an average of 1,400 new students per year beginning in 1992.
"That's a middle school, or two elementary schools," Kelly said. "If we don't have borrowing power or contingency funds, where is the money going to come from?" to meet these students' needs.
School officials cited the scaled-back enrollment projections and tightened purse strings as the main reasons no new projects are being proposed for fiscal 1992.
For fiscal 1993, the budget plan includes just three items: two new elementary schools, which have been pushed back a year, and money to buy the site for a third elementary school, for a total of $13.8 million.
About 400 new students are expected to enroll in county schools in September, far fewer than the 1,700 that had been forecast earlier. Enrollment, currently about 42,000, is expected to approach 50,000 by the 1996-97 school year, also down from earlier projections.
Funding to build and maintain the schools these students will need comes primarily from state and local bonds, with additional money from the school system's operating budget and low-interest loans from the state's Literary Fund.
Next year's operating budget, which will be presented to the seven-member School Board next month, is not expected to be more than the current $232 million budget, and may even shrink, school officials said, limiting one source of revenue for building and maintenance projects in the coming year.
Also, the school system is restricted in the amount of debt it can take on, with no new debt capacity available for 1992, and little expected in 1993, officials said. As a result, some projects, such as air-conditioning, are being pushed back a few years in the proposed building and maintenance plan.
In outlining the plan for the School Board last week, school officials proposed keeping $6.4 million in the construction fund to build an elementary school when needed, and holding on to $1 million to acquire a site in Gainesville for an elementary school.
Board member Ilona Salmon (Occoquan) said she was "glad to see we had as much money as we had" in the $9 million construction fund, and said she hoped board members "don't spend it if we don't have to." At least one member has expressed concern that the air-conditioning projects have been pushed back, and could seek to fund them earlier.
"We're fortunate we don't need to build four or five new schools" right now, Salmon said.
The capital improvements budget is published annually as a blueprint of projected capital expense needs for the next six years. The plan unveiled last week, which covers 1992-97, includes:
A dozen new schools, including two middle schools and a high school, at a cost of more than $130 million, to be financed with state and local bonds. The high school, to be located in the Montclair section of the county, is the largest single item in the plan, at a projected cost of $34 million.
Installation of air-conditioning at eight schools, all but one in the western end of the county.
Eight roof replacement projects.
Twelve asbestos removal projects.
The School Board is to vote on the plan at its meeting Wednesday.
THE PROPOSED PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS PROGRAM FOR 1992-97 CONSISTS OF 12 SCHOOLS
1993...Kahns Road ($6.4 million)
.......Gainesville area ($6.4 million)
1994...Linton Hall area ($6.7 million)
.......Western Dale City ($6.7 million)
1995...Eastern area ($7.1 million)
1996...Eastern area ($7.4 million)
.......Western area ($7.4 million)
1997...Eastern area ($7.8 million)
.......Eastern area ($7.8 million)
1995....Catharpin Road ($16 million)
1997....Eastern area ($18.5 million)
1996....Western Montclair ($34 million)