PWCS, You’re Welcome

As a member of the Gainesville / Brentsville district budget advisory committee, I, and my fellow committee members, spent an inordinate amount of time over the past 2 years examining PWCS’ budget. Our analysis showed that there were significant savings that could be found in the PWCS budget.  We even took the time to document those savings and shared them here and with anyone who cared to listen.

This year Gil Trenum and Alyson Satterwhite, with the support of Lisa Bell, proposed several adjustments to the PWCS budget that would have provided for additional reductions in class sizes.  Their suggestions fell flat.  The adjustments proposed were characterized as draconian and concern was expressed that they could undermine the school division’s financial stability.  We budget committee members were just too naive and ill informed to understand the complexity involved in the PWCS budget.

I fully expect to receive a Thank you Note from PWCS in the next few days.

Those of you who watched the last school board meeting of the year last night (June 18) noticed that the school division was able to adjust the 2014 – 2015 budget to absorb $6.9 million less than expected from the state and county, combined, without making any cuts.  The adjustments they made, increasing Other Revenues, reducing the planned fluff in teacher salaries, and reducing budgeted utility costs to better reflect actuals, were all changes the budget advisory committee had recommended.  You know, the adjustments that were characterized as draconian and potentially undermining to the school division’s financial stability.  You know, the ones were simpletons were too ill informed to understand.

You’re welcome, PWCS.  I like chocolate covered strawberries and sunflowers, in case you were wondering.

 

Planned Failure

PWCS projects that it will open the 13th high school in the fall of 2019 to relieve overcrowding in western end high schools.  Battlefield high school opened in the fall of 2004 and Patriot high school opened in the fall of 2010.  PWCS knew that both Battlefield and Patriot would be overcapacity before they opened, yet their “plan” for relieving that overcrowding was to wait 9 – 14 years until the 13th high school opened in the fall of 2019.

Based on the enrollment projections provided by PWCS, the 13th high school is overcapacity, 5 years before it opens.

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What’s $30 Million Among Friends?

At last night’s BOCS meeting, Supervisor Pete Candland mentioned some savings PWCS had carried forward.  The savings he noted ranged from $8 million in the 2010 school year to nearly $31 million in the 2014 school year.  Supervisor Candland said he wouldn’t stake his life on the numbers, but that’s what it looked like to him.

He’s right.

In January of 2010 PWCS reported “savings” of $8,249,361 in their 2nd quarter budget update.  $8 million of that was carried forward to the 2011 school year.

This January PWCS reported “savings” of $30,826,526 in their 2nd quarter budget update.  $27.8 million of that was carried forward to the Construction Fund for capital improvements and $1.1 million was carried forward to pay for technology improvements.

These savings aren’t the entirety of what is carried forward by PWCS each year.  These savings are just the school division’s projections in January of what things will look like at the end of the school year in June.  The actual savings that are carried forward at the end of the year are usually greater.

What is carry forward?  By statute, because they’re funded by taxes received from citizens, school divisions are not allowed to have any money left over at the end of the year.  That means that any money that is left over at the end of the year has to be allocated, or carried forward, to the next year or subsequent years. It means that throughout the year the school division assesses spending, calculates what will likely be left over at the end of the year, and carries any excess forward to other funds or the next school year.

Some of the expense categories that resulted in “savings” have been adjusted, so, presumably the savings that are carried forward in the next few years won’t be as much as they were this year.

However, when you have from $8 million to $30 million in savings that you can carry forward to subsequent years, and that money primarily comes from 4 places – under budgeted revenues, over budgeted reserve expenses, over budgeted utilities expenses, and over budgeted compensation expenses – it is difficult to accept that there isn’t enough money to reduce class sizes beyond the 1 student in math in 6th grade that is contained in the FY 2015 budget.

Don’t take my word for it, look and see for yourself.

This file contains the 2nd quarter budget updates from 2010 ===>Q2Updates-2.  These are the actual updates from the PWCS web site.

The chart below is all of those updates conveniently typed into one chart.  The cells highlighted in yellow are the amounts being carried forward.  The columns are in reverse chronological order, so they start with 2014 and go back to 2010.

2nd Qtr Updates

 

PWCS Can Find Money for Cars, But Not To Reduce Class Sizes

At the March 19, 2013 School Board meeting, the board approved the budget for the 2014 – 2015 school year.  The budget provides for limited class size reductions in 6th grade, a 3% salary increase for faculty and staff (of which 2% is from PWCS and 1% is from the state and will go directly back out to pay for a 1% increase in VRS contribution rates), and a step increase for faculty and staff at Step 1.  Health insurance costs will increase 4% for faculty and staff.

Many of you will recall that this fall the Superintendent provided a plan for reducing class sizes in three grade levels – kindergarten, 6th grade, and 9th grade.  This plan was developed at the request of the School Board based on their expressed opinions that reducing class sizes at the “transition” points would produce the greatest results.  The total projected cost of this plan was $3,563,323, which would have added 40.2 new teachers (cost $3,143,883), 3 new professional development coaches (cost $244,440), and additional funding for conferences (cost $175,000) {see full plan here ===>Class Size Reduction}.

The Superintendent’s budget for the 2014 – 2015 school year only funded class size reductions in 6th grade.  Gil Trenum and Alyson Satterwhite presented a plan last night that would have adjusted the Superintendent’s proposed budget and funded the two additional pieces of the class size reduction plan, increased allocations to schools by $3 per pupil, and provided funding for replacing the tracks at Gar-field and OP.  That plan could only garner the support of three school board members – Gil Trenum, Alyson Satterwhite, and Lisa Bell.

What was in this plan, that only three school board members could support?

I was on the Gainesville / Brentsville District Budget committee and will share what we developed for Gil and Alyson that formed the basis for the plan. (please see UPDATE at the end of the article for clarifications and corrections).

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PWCS Money Bomb…

images Last night’s BOCS meeting was must see TV.  What with the shouting and name calling, it was better than a WWE match. Since I have no interest in seeing our BOCS members in wrestling clothes, I’d like to suggest that in the future the BOCS hire The Rock and Hulk Hogan to glare at one another and pound their chests during contentions moments.  Imagine the ratings bonanza!

So what caused all the chest thumping and growling?  Setting the advertised tax rate and the school division’s budget.  Thrilling stuff, isn’t it!

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Budget Busters…

This year I have the pleasure of serving, again, on the Gainesville / Brentsville District budget committee.  The people serving on this committee, who all volunteered to spend several hours almost every Sunday night examining the school division’s budget and even more time reviewing the budget in advance of the Sunday meetings,  amaze me.  We are teachers, nurses, CPAs, CFA,s engineers, lawyers, and Moms and Dads.  We come from all walks of political life – conservatives, liberals, libertarians, Democrats, Republicans, and gosh darned independents.  The one tie that binds us is our commitment to our public schools.  We may not agree on any other political issues, but we all agree that our teachers and our children’s classrooms have been stretched beyond the breaking point.  We willingly volunteer hours of our personal time to try to find the pennies that may have been missed that might help our teachers and our classrooms.

Those of you who follow this blog know that we struggled a bit last year with some of the answers we got from school division staff.  Some of the budget lines seemed odd to us, with projections that had little relationship to the past actuals.  I was worried that we’d encounter more of the same this year.

We haven’t.  In fact, we’ve found the opposite.

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Everything is Awesome…

Everything is cool when you’re part of a team.

Everything is awesome,

When you’re living the dream! 

I just saw the Lego movie with my children, and that song was an integral part of the movie.  As a Mom with two children, I spend a lot of time at movies like this and, as so often happens in these types of movies, my mind wanders a bit.

See, if you listen to the reports about Prince William County, everything here is Awesome.  We have the lowest taxes in the area and are one of the wealthiest counties in the nation!

Everything is Awesome and PWC, we are Living the Dream!

Except where we aren’t.  Our taxes may be among the lowest in the region, but our tax rate is among the highest.  Our household income may be among the highest in the nation, but it’s one of the lowest in the region.

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Changes to School Division Purchasing Authority

On October 2, 2013 the PWC School Board approved reducing the school division’s authority to award contracts from $500,000 to $250,000.  This vote required changing a number of policies regarding purchasing to reflect the reduced threshold.

At the January 8, 2014 school board meeting, the school board will vote to approve or reject the changes to those purchasing policies that resulted from that vote.

Many of the changes to the purchasing policies have nothing to do with reducing the school division’s contract award authority.  In fact, the only change that is related to the vote on October 3, 2013 is the change to policy 470.08.   The remaining changes eliminate notification of change orders / contract modifications and increase the purchasing authority for schools, departments, and the Office of Facilities Services.

All of the proposed changes  are summarized below.

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Misleading the Public

On Wednesday night the PWC School board will vote to approve the bids for building the 12th high school.  I suspect the votes will go in favor of the school plus the pool. Chairman Johns, Dr Otaigbe, Mrs Jessie, and Mrs Williams have all said they strongly support the pool.  Mrs Covington says she’s undecided, but has indicated her support for the pool in the past.  Mr Trenum, Mrs Bell, and Mrs Satterwhite are opposed to the pool.

By now most of you know the issues about the pool.  Many folks have been shocked at the secrecy within the school system and the disdain certain employees appear to have for the public and elected officials.  From the pool to the Lynn family cemetery and moving their graves, this school and the pool has been an example of how not to do things.

Other folks are covering the Lynn family cemetery, so I won’t repeat those issues.  The school division’s behavior in this regard has been, in my opinion, reprehensible.

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Does the PWC School Board Take Education Seriously?

If we’re to believe our school board members and every other person who works for PWCS, the school division’s finances are at the point where we might have to cut or eliminate non-core services in the coming years; that to balance the budget things like specialty programs, sending students to TJ, elementary strings, and middle school sports might have to be eliminated.

I sat through the budget discussions last spring and listened to department head after department head bemoan how little money there was to maintain current service levels.  I heard how PWCS is understaffing special ed and certain student services to the extent that our children’s education is at risk.  I had a conversation with a senior level school division administrator about serious problems they know exist in one of our programs for mathematically advanced students, and listened as he told me that they didn’t have the staff to design and implement any sort of changes to the program.  Every school board member just attended a joint meeting with the BOCS about reducing class sizes where it was agreed that taxes might have to be increased to bring class sizes down.

If the school division’s finances are stretched as tightly as they say, why do so many school board members still believe the pool is a wise choice?  The school pool will cost the school division approximately $1 million a year, after user fees are deducted.  The total costs of the pool are in the $1.5  – $1.8 million range with user fees covering $500,000 – $800,000 of those costs.  That money to pay those expenses will come from our allocation of county tax receipts, and, as we’ve heard for everyone employed by or affiliated with the school division, the school division is broke and can barely afford basic instructional supplies.   Yet Dr Otiagbe, Mrs Jessie, Mrs Covington, and Chairman Johns still believe that spending $1 million a year for the school pool is a wise decision.

Why?  They know that money doesn’t grow on trees and must realize how little room there is in the school division’s budget for luxuries like a school pool.  Yet they still think it’s a good decision and refuse to say why.

This week Dr Otaigbe said he thinks every PWC school student should be given an iPad.  PWCS officials implied that the only thing holding us back was our budget.  Are you kidding me!  Just so I understand, if PWCS had Fairfax’s budget, we’d be buying and issuing iPad or lap books for all of our students?  Seriously?  That’s roughly $17 – $34 million.

Classrooms in many of our schools are too large to manage.  Our teachers haven’t gotten the salary increases they deserve and may not be getting them in the coming years as the state requires school districts to pay back the deliberate underfunding of the VRS.  Schools have been rationing things like toner and paper.  But spending $1 million a year on a pool is a wise use of funds and buying iPads for students is a necessity.

Hugh????

I can’t imagine that these school board members are that stupid.  I was willing to give these folks the benefit of the doubt.  I figured maybe they had inside information that indicated that the school division would be getting more money from who knows where.  Maybe someone bought a winning lotto ticket with PWCS money so now the school division has several hundred million it didn’t expect.  Because barring that, I don’t know how the school division can pay for all these nice to haves.

Unless there’s something else at play.

At the joint school board / BOCS meeting, the BOCS agreed that we may need to increase taxes to adequately fund our schools.  Maybe these school board members expect that the tax increase will be sufficient to fund their pet projects, so they don’t need to worry about fiscal restraint.  The pool, iPads for students, increased spending on conferences and travel without justifying the expenditure, $100 million on a high school, astro-turf fields – all are perfectly fine as long as someone is available to pay for it.

It’s not that the PWC School Board isn’t serious about education, it’s that they’ve found their sugar daddy to pay for their playthings, and it’s us.

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