The Prince William County Board of Supervisors is threatening to cancel a promised $1 million grant to help reduce class sizes in county schools if the school board won’t comply with their request to sign a formal agreement about how the money will be spent.

The school board signed such an agreement last year, but has so far declined to renew it, based in part on advice from their attorney that Virginia law does not permit county officials to dictate how school boards spend local tax dollars.

Still, the school board pledged in their recently approved budget to spend an extra $2 million to continue class-size reduction efforts they began last year. The money includes the promised $1 million grant from the county board as well as the required $1 million in school-division matching funds.

School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers said Tuesday the school division is already spending the money to hire teachers for the coming school year.

Also, at the supervisors’ request, Prince William Superintendent Steven Walts sent a letter to the supervisors Tuesday reiterating the school board’s commitment to fulfill the terms of the grant.

“The school division, in the spirit of trust and cooperation, funded its $1 million on a recurring basis,” Walts wrote in a letter dated June 16. “Not only are the funds budgeted, but the school division has affirmed its commitment to the program by assuming the risk of authorizing the contracts necessary for applicable staffing to sustain the program in 2017.”

But apparently the “spirit of trust and cooperation” is not flowing both ways.

Neither Walts’ letter nor the approved school board’s budget is enough to convince Supervisors Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, and Jeanine Lawson, R-Brentsville, who said Tuesday they will not vote to renew the $1 million grant unless Sawyers signs a new memorandum of agreement.

The issue is the latest dustup amid an already strained relationship between the two boards. Led by Sawyers, the school board was critical of the supervisors’ decision to keep real-estate tax rates flat this year, a move cut that about $7 million in expected revenue from the school division budget.

The supervisors’ have twice delayed their decision on the special class-size reduction grant, which comes on top of the school division’s regular budget allocation.

I am so tired of reading about teachers having to scrap, scrape and beg for every damn penny.  It is ridiculous and Prince William County, the BOCS in particular, is notorious for always going on the cheap.

In particular, I am going to direct my remarks to Supervisors Candland, Anderson and Lawson:  Do you people have any freaking clue what it is like to teach 38 kids in one classroom?  I just bet you don’t.

I do.  It’s absolute hell.   If you teach at the secondary level, you have 38 desks.  Those desks don’t go away at the end of the class period so your room is continually packed and there isn’t enough room for students or teacher to move around.  It is impossible to give any kid extra help.  It’s a numbers game.

How on earth do you contact parents as often as necessary?  You don’t.  Throw in a few special ed kids or non-English speakers to that mix.  You instantly become the people of the lie.  The school tells parents that their child is getting special help.  Nothing is further from the truth.  It isn’t happening.

Supervisors Candland, Anderson and Lawson:  Did you vote for that flat tax rate?  Did you cause the schools to lose 7 million dollars?  It is going to cost big bucks to fix this overcrowding.  You are going to have to start financing the fix.  It won’t happen on its own.

Stop treating the School Board like errant children.  They aren’t your “students.”   What did they do with the money last year?

According to Walts’ memo, the county’s $1 million grant, matched by another $1 million from the school division, was spent in the following ways last school year to reduce class sizes:

• About $1.3 million was spent to add 16 full-time middle school teachers, reducing average class sizes in 7th grade “core” classes, including world languages, from 28 students to about 26 students.

• About $336,500 was spent to reduce maximum class sizes from 28 to 27 students in kindergarten and from 29 to 28 students in first through fifth grades across the school division.

• About $235, 590 was spent to add teachers at some middle schools to reduce the average number of students in “encore” classes such as band, family and consumer science and career investigation.

• About $142,000 was spent to pay high school teachers supplements to teach additional math classes. The effort reduced average class sizes in ninth-grade math classes.

Why have a school board attorney if the board isn’t going to listen.  The “Big 3” need to stop the power struggle.  They have no indication that the school board will do anything nefarious with the money.  The entire power play is political grandstanding.  The losers are the teachers and kids.

Supervisors, as I said, I KNOW what happens in over-crowded conditions.  I have been there and done that.  I believe I spoke of a class with 38 kids.  I have had plenty of classes with 35 kids also.  This situation isn’t new.  I have been out of the classroom for 9 years.  It continues to get worse.  Fixing the problem takes money.  There is no way around it.

Stop screwing around with your politics.  Fund the schools so they can stop begging for every morsel.  The games you all are playing are getting real old.  You act like  paying an extra 12 bucks a month on your real estate taxes is the end of the world.  This is Northern Virginia, not coal country.

Stop whining and fund the schools.





15 Thoughts to “Candland, Lawson and Anderson attempt to “blackmail” school board”

  1. Excellent commentary to go along with the report that I read today. Question though, do you think if the School Division provided the outlook that the memo provided for THIS year’s improvements, would that be satisfactory enough? Naw, I don’t think it would either.

    1. Ahhhhh, I don’t think so. I think we agree. Nothing would be good enough.

  2. Pug Henry

    In response to your quotes ….
    “In particular, I am going to direct my remarks to Supervisors Candland, Anderson and Lawson: Do you people have any freaking clue what it is like to teach 38 kids in one classroom? I just bet you don’t.”

    Well, if you followed closely you would know that Candland initiated the “plus up” of money to specifically address overcrowding because the PWCS Board was doing nothing to address it. So you criticize him him for not doing what he is actually trying to do and your precious school board is ignoring.

    “Supervisors Candland, Anderson and Lawson: Did you vote for that flat tax rate? Did you cause the schools to lose 7 million dollars? ”

    Well again, you seem to not be paying too much attention. The schools NEVER had the 7 million. How can they take it away if it was never appropriated to them. The School Board passed a budget that was based on expectations that were not yet approved. Once again, they are more concerned about getting a whole bunch of money to waste (name changes, pianos, pools, significant raises to Walts) rather than concentrating on classroom size.

    1. And you are part of the problem. The school system has projections based on a number of things. In particular, they look at the 5 year plan and do the math. So yes, the school system did lose access to 7 million dollars.

      You can sit there and speculate from the arm chair all you want. I’ve been there and have been challenged to do the impossible.

      Candland is trying to get more control of school board money. That has been going on for …oh…about 5 years. That just isn’t how it works.

      1. Pug Henry


        I would respond that it is not working not because of Candland but because of a board that is out of touch and a patsy to Walts and his crowd. Class size was never an issue on the PWCS board’s agenda until Candland made it an issue. If that is seen as wanting more control then I am all for it. This and the previous board (well, actually the Walt’s admin since they just mouth what he wants them to) have consistently said that a few million here or there will not fix the class size issue. Implicit in that is why worry about it unless they got a big chunk of money to fix and we should let them continue their wasteful spending since what they have is (sorry about this) just “peanuts.”
        I may be operating from an armchair as you say but we both really want the same thing – a focus on a quality education for our children. Where we may differ is that I believe the current board’s (and Walt’s) focus is elsewhere. They seem to focus on getting as much money as they can and then spend it on some very unwise areas. I am not a big believer that more money solves everything especially when more money brings boneheaded decisions that I hope I don’t have to reiterate here but PWCS has a propensity for.
        When all is said, don’t you think it is childish that the PWCS Chairman (at-large) has his panties in a wad because he doesn’t want to agree to an MOU to get the (extra) million from the BOCS for class size reduction? This is am MOU they have previously signed and every other receiver of BOCS funds is required to sign. I am all for the BOCS being consistent and blame the PWCS board for being political on this one!

      2. I am not sure they should have signed an MOU in the past. I feel strongly that the school board is elected to handle the schools, not the supervisors.

        Of course, I have been around enough years in the catbird seat, so to speak, to have seen the abuses when supervisors had control of the schools and the money via their appointed school board members.

        Systemically, the overcrowding exists because this county ALWAYS operates on the cheap and continues to propagate the bedroom community image it has because of developers. Pete wants to cut back money. That is wrongheaded. Teachers cost money. Count on a million dollars maybe getting 10 or 11 teachers. Until the county is ready to generate the money to hire the teachers to fix the problem, it will persist.

        There was already a problem. The county really lost ground during the Recession and the money we poured into ousting the immigrants…or pretending to oust them. No one cared what it cost, apparently.

        Frankly, the difference in 35 vs 34 kids in a class is negligible. That’s the difference in being where the rubber meets the road and in an arm chair. Its really an issue of concrete vs abstract.

      3. Robin Hood

        Pug, you are getting way too personal here. Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the class sizes increased because of budget austerity in the recent recession. The county board is responsible for that.

        State law says that the BOCS appropriates the money and the School Board determines how to spend it. This is a wise safeguard against the partisan political games being played right now. The previous School Board was Republican controlled, so they had no problem with the memorandum of understanding, or building swimming pools instead of classrooms for that matter.

        Now that the two boards have majorities from different parties you see what is happening. Gil Trenum could have asked a Republican legislator to get an Attorney General’s opinion on the statute governing his situation, but he didn’t. Maybe the fact that Mr. Herring is a Democrat had something to do with it.

        These Republicans are playing partisan games because they want their School Board back.

        @Pug Henry

      4. Or, perhaps Pug just wants to cut to the chase and tell us why class size is so large and so out of control with the past school board and past board of county supervisors all being Republican. Who will he blame now?

  3. Starryflights

    Well stated, moon.

  4. Pat.Herve

    It is time that the school board budget gets separated from the county budget. I come from a jurisdiction where the school budget was voted on by the voters – sure, the process had some issues, but at least the funding number was not arbitrarily decided by a made up percentage and if a new fire truck needed to be funded.

    1. That jurisdiction isn’t in Virginia is it?

      1. Confused


        Sounds like New Jersey

      2. It sounds like we have our own “western mafia.”

  5. George S. Harris

    While I agree with you Moon, I have to say the School Board has done a couple of really dumb things: building the most expensive high school in the Commonwealth and buying perhaps the most expensive piano in a Commonwealth high school. This makes folks look at they actions with somewhat of a jaundiced eye.

    Overcrowding is a serious problem and leads to less than an optimum teaching environment. Perhaps it is time to think about severing the school budget from the county budget by giving the school board its own taxing authority. This is done in many other places, why not here in Virginia? That way the voters get a real chance to weigh in on the issue of classroom overcrowding, teacher salaries and construction.

    1. This is Virginia. It would have to happen at the state level.

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