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.