Schools Prepare to Tighten Belts Even Further
If the county adopts a tax rate lower than the proposed tax rate of $1.215, the school budget will face further cuts.
In last night's Board of County Supervisors work session on the school budget, PWCS Chairman-at-Large Milton Johns presented the proposed school budget based on the proposed tax rate of $1.215, only to be told that the tax rate might be $1.212 instead.
Without any additional state funding, this would mean further cuts in the school system.
"The board's policy never was to set the rate at $1.215," BOCS chairman Corey Stewart said, explaining that the board explored the possibility of either a flat tax bill adjusted for inflation ($1.212) or a revenue neutral rate ($1.209).
PWC continues to have the lowest tax bill in Northern Virginia, Johns said.
If the board does not maintain the advertised tax rate, the school's budget will strain even further. In the budget that was proposed last night, high school and middle school class sizes are at the state maximum. In addition, the 2,767 new students would add $28 million in additional costs. With the new students, there would be 83,837 students in PWCS.
Other major factors in the budget are the cost increase of $31.2 million for the Virginia Retirement System and the needed restoration of state cost-of-competing at a cost of $10.8 million.
Student membership is growing, with an overall growth of 15.5 percent, and a 16.3 percent growth in special education, a 17.4 percent growth in ESOL, and a 37.0 percent growth in the number of students who qualify for a free or reduced price lunch.
"We continue to be the second largest school system in the Commonwealth of Virginia," Johns said. PWCS is the fourth largest school system in the United States.
In a comparison of cost-per-pupil in FY 2012 in the Northern Virginia area school districts, PWCS was very lean, at a cost of $9,852 per pupil. Arlington's cost-per-pupil was $18,047, while Stafford's was $8,915.
In a breakdown of PWCS proposed operating costs, salaries and benefits took 83.4 percent of expenditures. Utilities were 6.7 percent, supplies and materials were 4.6 percent, reserves 3.5 percent, and capital 1.8 percent.
County funding of the schools has decreased steadily from 50.1 percent in 2004 to an estimated 43.8 percent in 2013.
Though PWCS has learned to tighten its belt over the years, Johns warned that "lean and efficient is closer to inadequate service," specifically in the areas of employee raises and high class sizes.
"The impact on student performance will always be in hindsight," one of Johns' Powerpoint slides read.
Ultimately, Johns said the still-evolving school budget will be unavoidably unpopular with many people.
"This is a budget that everyone can kind of hate a little bit from every angle," he said. "There's something in this budget for everybody to dislike. Unlike the federal government, we can't spend money that we don't have. We can only spend the money that's given to us."