During the last joint session of the Prince William County School Board and the Board of Supervisors, Supervisors Lawson and Candland chose to pick a fight with the School Board over a budget flyer sent home. I wish they had discussed the needs of the school board, especially as it relates to textbooks.
Disclosure: up until 3 years ago I was a certified secondary math teacher so this is important to me and I think I know what I am talking about. I also have grandchildren in PWC Schools.
Kids aren’t being issued textbooks. I checked with my middle school grandson. No math book. I couldn’t get an answer about the other books. I checked with friends who have kids in the school system. Their kids don’t have text books in any of the subjects. WTF? There are classroom sets.
So I asked about homework. It seems that kids have binders and worksheets. Sorry. That doesn’t cut it. How on earth are our kids learning to read in the content areas? Apparently they are not. Reading in the content areas is a critical skill that people who move beyond high school must have to be successful. If our SAT scores are coming up short, that is one place to immediately look.
As I watched speaker after speaker go to the podium in the Supervisors chambers last night, requesting that the BOCS advertise a tax rate high enough to support the 5 year plan, I questioned my own sanity. Where were the thundering hordes of people I had heard about? You know, those people who wanted the tax rate frozen at some ridiculously low figure that would pretty much halt most progress in Prince William County.
Our house-mate suggested that I must have been listening to talking hand sock puppets–that old propaganda trick of making people think that there were a lot more people out there than really exist. Sometime after 9 pm, a lone man got up and asked for a 1.3% rise in taxes. Actually, I think he thought that was even too much. He was also plenty irate about the budget sheet that got sent home with each school kid. I wonder if he got irate last year and the year before that?
Sending materials home with students is the main way the school system communicates between school and home. It always has been. Just because we live in an age of technology doesn’t mean that all parents have computers. Even in households with computers, often the computers were bought for the kids to help them with their studies (forget enhancing their social life). I don’t think some of our middle and upper middle class residents understand that everyone isn’t just like them.
Prince William County’s schools enrollment boom has outpaced the growth of the district’s budget for years, a quandary exacerbated by the recession. Class sizes have ballooned. Bus service has been cut. Per-pupil spending has flattened.
Faced with the prospect of the county’s enacting a smaller than planned increase in the property tax rate, the school board has again begun weighing drastic cuts, this time to the district’s treasured universal full-day kindergarten program, which Superintendent Steven L. Walts once touted as his “greatest accomplishment.” After years of cutbacks, board members said there are few places left to look to save money.
“It’s more of an economic calculation than an educational calculation,” said school board Chairman Milton C. Johns (At Large), who has championed the expansion of the program. “We’re out of options.”
So this is what it comes down to? The BOCS needs to stop trying to “out-Republican” each other and do the right and responsible thing. Cutting new funding back to a $12 million increase is not the right and responsible thing to do when PWC gets approximately 2000 new students per year.
Prince William County could have “a fundamentally different school system” if a proposal to hold real-estate tax bills at the rate of inflation is approved, a move that could trigger up to $20 million in cuts next school year, School Board Chairman Milt Johns says.
The school board won’t discuss particulars until Feb. 4, but to brace for what Johns calls an “unplanned and dramatic revenue cut,” he’s asking board members to consider discretionary spending cuts to absorb a loss of about $11 million in expected revenue. At the same time, he wants to maintain a planned pay scale “step increase” for teachers, costing about $8 million, and a $1 million plan to reduce class sizes in one grade level.
Johns is asking the board to find savings in three areas: full-day kindergarten programs at non-Title I schools; bus service to middle and high school specialty programs and construction and renovation projects planned to begin in fiscal year 2016.
None are cuts Johns would advise, but they are the few large-ticket items that can be reduced to find significant savings in the division’s budget.
I have a plan. PWC needs to stop going on the cheap. They attempt it again and again. That’s how we get in these pickles to start with. There cannot be a supervisors meeting without Pete Candland piping up and trying to “reform” us. In December, he proposed to disregard the 5 year plan and hold revenue increases to 1.3%. As it stands, the budget guidance is once again going on the cheap.
Pete and his sidekick are only 2 people. Why did three other irresponsible people chose to support cheap again? I don’t like paying taxes either. In a perfect world. I would get really good services for nothing. As it turns out, that isn’t how things work. If I want decent services commensurate with Northern Virginia standards, I am going to have to cough up some money.
Tuesday morning was a disaster in terms of the weather related traffic mishaps. Despite snow and freeze warnings issued on all major news programs, the major Northern Virginia jurisdictions chose to open school on time. This decision did not bode well for Prince William County Schools and its students and faculty. At least 12 accidents reported across the county involved school buses. Students waited in sub-freezing weather at bus stops for buses that never arrived. Where were the thought processes of those making these decisions?
Apparently the NoVA schools followed a monkey-see, monkey-do approach to decision -making in a sea of rather unwise monkeys rather than smartly assess the current weather situation of rapidly falling snow and sub-freezing temperatures.
Students who even got to school spent the day in cafeterias across the county watching movies. Many of their teachers couldn’t get to school on time. Classrooms doubled up. In general, things were a mess and Prince William County wasn’t alone in what has to be one of the biggest blunders in a long time. According to the Washington Post:
The first snowfall of the new year was heavier than expected, prompting apologies from several of the region’s school systems and wreaking havoc with the morning commute Tuesday as icy roads and hundreds of collisions snarled traffic.
With forecasts calling for one to two inches of snow, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties opened schools on time and later came to regret it. Students were left waiting for buses that never came. Schools reported that buses were stuck in traffic or unable to navigate icy hills. The decision to open infuriated parents, who accused school officials of being reckless and putting students in unnecessary danger.
This morning when I check in to Facebook.com, I saw some very sad news from Prince William County School Board Chairman Milt Johns. Let me first off say that Mr. Johns is a Republican. He and I have very different political views. In fact, on some of them, we would probably stand toe to toe and scream at each other. Mr. Johns, however, was the school board chair. Those issues that we vehemently disagree on would have rarely come up. I also don’t know Mr. Johns personally. We have met professionally, before I retired. Milt Johns’ press release:
For Immediate Release
After months of prayer, reflection, and discussions with my family, I have decided that I will not seek re-election as Chairman at Large of the Prince William County School Board in 2015. When my term ends at midnight on December 31, 2015, I will have spent nearly a quarter of my life serving on the Prince William County School Board. It is time for me to focus on other matters, including my family and my law practice. I do expect to continue to have …a role supporting Prince William County Schools and in local political activities.
Let’s see what Calvin has to say about writing:
If the School Board approves, 11th grade students in Prince William County schools will no longer be required to submit and pass a formal research paper as a requirement for graduation.
School Board members heard arguments from teachers and administrators Wednesday night as to whether they should delete Regulation 600-1, which dictates the research paper requirement.
Supervisor of Language Arts Roberta Apostolakis said she believes deleting the graduation requirement and allowing for more writing within the curriculum would “absolutely strengthen” writing within language arts classes.
In her presentation, Roberta Apostolakis emphasized that the rigorous research-based writing, which is embedded throughout the K-12 curricula and the evidence collected throughout a student’s career, exceeds one “narrowly defined assignment.” She asked that the School Board approve making the English 11 research paper “an embedded part of the English curriculum rather than a separate graduation requirement.”
According to Apostolakis, the research paper took too much time out of the 11th grade curriculum, was weighted too heavily and did not vary the assignment to the level of the student.
No kidding. From a parent point of view, this requirement is worse than a science fair project on steroids. In fact, I would venture to say the graduation requirement is tantamount to child abuse. Can we start with the notion that not everyone is going to college?