After a , the Prince William County School Board voted March 28 to pass the proposed $861 million operating budget, and directed Superintendent Steven Walts to make $5 million in cuts to fund an average 2.85 percent step increase in pay for teachers.
The budget passed 5-3, with Alyson Satterwhite, Gil Trenum and Lisa Bell voting against. The board also chose to pass one out of a possible eight amendments to the budget: an amendment directing Walts to work with the Board in the future to funnel any additional funding that the schools receive into reducing class sizes or adjusting the Capital Improvements Program.
The amendment was produced after a discussion in which various board members discussed their desire to prevent layoffs and prevent across-the-board cuts to the schools.
In making the necessary cuts for step increases, Walts said that staying within these restrictions would be "near impossible."
The specifics of what to cut are so far unknown. The board agreed to leave it primarily up to Walts' discretion.
The step increase is important to teacher morale and will play a factor in teacher retention. Last year, there was a 9 percent turnover rate among PWCS teachers. The year before, the rate was 13 percent.
PWCS has one of the lowest rates of work hours per year in the region. With seven average projected work hours a day for 195 days a year, teachers in the county work an average of 1365 work hours in a year.
But the economic toll that the recession has taken on federal and state coffers is trickling down to the county level as well. The General Assembly is proposing a shift in Virginia Retirement System costs from employer to employee. The 5 percent change would happen over a period of either one or five years. If five years, the change would happen by 1 percent every year.
For each 1 percent shifted, the county would give a 1 percent raise. The five year plan would be more cost-effective longterm, said David Cline, associate superintendent for Finance and Support Services. It would require an outlay of $1,280,888. The one-year plan, on the other hand, would require an outlay of over $6.4 million.
Either way, the raises given would raise the advertised salary, though the net salary would remain the same. For example, if an average salary before the VRS shift was $40,000, the 1 percent raise would bump the advertised salary to $40,400, but the 1 percent shift in VRS funds would deplete the salary by $400, leaving the net salary at $40,000. A 5 percent raise would add $2000 to the advertised salary, and the 5 percent shift would bring the net salary back down to $40,000.
Since the plan for making cuts is so open-ended, Cline explained some areas that were stretched so thin that they could be cut no further, including class sizes, special education programs and transportation, ESOL programs, and state textbooks.
The School Board is hoping that the Board of County Supervisors will approve the advertised tax rate. Since the tax rate has been advertised, the BOCS can vote for a rate that is equal to or les than the advertised rate. If they vote for a lower rate, this will mean further cuts in school budgets.
"There are many competing interests in the school system and we can't make everyone happy," Chairman Milton Johns said.
The next step is for the budget to go before the Board of County Supervisors later today. Prince William County teachers plan to rally oustide the McCoart Building Thursday evening in support of the current advertised tax rate.