Students clad in pajamas and draped in sleeping bags demonstrated outside school board headquarters in Montgomery County on Monday, urging support for later high school start times that would allow them to get more rest.
The “sleep-in” — replete with bathrobes, teddy bears and fuzzy slippers — came on the eve of a school board vote, expected Tuesday, on whether to shift school schedules at Montgomery’s 25 high schools, where classes now begin at 7:25 a.m.
The Prince William County School Board gave the Superintendent guidance on preparing a budget that would explore cuts to discretionary programs, Wednesday, but would fund teacher salary increases and class size reductions across one grade level in the district.
In discussion, the proposal to eliminate full-day kindergarten proved to be unpopular amongst board members. School Board members were also unhappy about eliminating specialty programs, but nonetheless agreed to review them along with other discretionary programs.
Back in December, the Board of County Supervisor’s provided its own budget guidance to the County Executive. They asked her to create the county’s Fiscal Year 16 [FY16] budget based on a tax increase of 1.3 percent, rather than the 4 percent tax increase prescribed by the board’s five-year plan.
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?
The Prince William County Office of Planning and Boundaries has published two new attendance area recommendations that would move the Victory Lakes community into Brentsville District High School (BDHS).
The Victory Lakes Community in Bristow is currently zoned to attend Stonewall Jackson High School (SJHS) in Manassas, but the opening of the 12th high school makes room for students from that neighborhood to attend BDHS. As the proposed boundaries for the new high school moves students from the eastern portion of the BDHS attendance area out of BDHS, it makes room for Bristow students.
To alleviate some crowding at Patriot High School, the school division has already recommended that New Bristow Village along Route 28/Nokesville Road be rezoned to BDHS. The community of Victory Lakes along Sudley Manor Drive in Bristow has also expressed interest in having their students attend BDHS.
It appears that several of the BOCS took out after the Prince William County School Board with a vengeance. Jim Livingston, PWEA president, said it best when he “suggested that supervisors are more concerned with political posturing than about the needs of the school system.”
Yet those stark numbers didn’t keep some supervisors from grilling Johns and David Cline, associate superintendent for finance and support services, about why the school system isn’t doing more to lower class sizes – a topic both boards discussed during three joint board meetings held over the summer and fall.
During those meetings, supervisors asked Superintendent Steve Walts to come up with a plan to begin lowering class sizes. Walts presented a $3.5 million plan to lower class numbers in kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades, but said the school system would need extra money from the county to fund the changes.
But when supervisors failed to offer any extra funds, the school board scaled back their plans to only sixth-grade. Supervisors offered no sign Tuesday that any extra money would be coming from the county to lower class sizes next year – but that didn’t keep them from hammering school board members for not doing more.
Listen to Jim Livingston, president of the Prince William Education Association. Jim knows that Prince William County has been operating on the cheap for years. He knows that he and his colleagues have not received competitive compensation for years. Jim also knows that class size counts. These issues must be addressed this year. Will the advertised tax rate suffice in fixing PWCS’s operating on the cheap problem? No. Not even close but it is a start.
Prince William Education Association has been sounding the alarm about salaries and class size for quite some time. This is not a new phenomena and the local association has been vigilant about asking for these measures to be corrected. Yet, if one glances about the blogosphere, one would think that a certain blog from Gainesville discovered the problem, all by their lonesome. Teachers have been insulted and accused of being led around by the school board. Nothing could be further from the truth.