Is the Prince William County School Board spending our money wisely? I ask this, in part, because of the debate over the pool that will be built in the 12th high school.
Most of us aren’t so wealthy that cost doesn’t play a role in the decisions we make for our families. When we need a new car, we tend to buy something we can afford that meets our families needs, even though the Maserati would be so cool. We don’t put in granite counter-tops or buy new stainless steel refrigerators unless we can afford them.
I expect that our elected school board members and school division employees will apply the same level of financial caution when they consider spending my tax dollars. The debate over the pool has made me question whether our elected officials are being good stewards of my money.
Until I spoke at the school board meeting last week and raised the issue of the pool, the school division had not admitted that a pool was included in the plans for the 12th high school. Nowhere on the PWCS web site was there any reference to the pool. Estimates for the cost of building the pool in a school building could not be found on the PWCS web site nor had they been disclosed to the public or the school board. No estimates of the cost of operating the pool have been provided to the public or the school board. No plans for offsetting some of those costs by opening the pool to the public have been provided to the public or the school board. The pool was, and still is, a great big unknown. It may well be one of the best kept, poorly planned secrets in the county.
I called each of our Board of County Supervisors to ask them about PWCS’s plans to put a pool in a school. Here’s what they said.
Supervisor Caddigan said that there is a need to incorporate pools into schools, but that decisions regarding school division expenditures were at the discretion of the school board.
Supervisor Nohe said that there hasn’t been any presentation of the school’s plan to the BOCS, that he only knew about it because he lived in that district, that most BOCS members were probably unaware of it, and that the board had taken no formal position regarding the pool.
Supervisors Principi and May wanted more information before they formed opinions on the issue. I have not heard back from Supervisor Jenkins’ office.
Supervisors Candland and Convington sent me written responses and were more verbose. Supervisor Candland said the following:
“Thank you for writing me on this important issue. This is one of those issues where all of us would like to offer the best facilities possible for students in PWC schools, including swimming pools. However, the ability to fund more fundamental educational programs takes a far higher priority in my mind than what is evidenced in this proposal.I read in a news report that the proposed FY 2014 budget will do nothing for class size reduction. If that report is accurate, then I certainly cannot support a school budget that fails to address one of the core problems that I believe has hampered our ability to provide support for students in preparation for graduation. Being able to leverage the building of the high school to address the lack of swimming lanes in the County is an interesting idea, but only if we were first able to address the more important issues. I was particularly dismayed to read recently of the relatively poor performance of PWC students in both SAT scores and National Merit Scholar Semi-Finalists. These metrics evidence areas of concern and I believe the time has come for serious introspection on how we allocate scarce budget resources.As a father of three kids currently in the Prince William County school system, I believe that choosing to allocate funds to a new high school with a very expensive swimming pool, both in construction costs and maintenance costs going forward, rather than investing in reducing class sizes, just doesn’t seem like the right decision now since we have more pressing needs.I will look forward to hearing from the School Board when they present their budget. Although the BOCS does not have authority over the details of the school budget, I can assure you that I will voice the concerns of a budget that fails to demonstrate action to attack the core problems in our schools.”
“I believe the priority now should be reducing class sizes and remaining competitive in the region for teacher compensation. I would be interested in seeing a cost analysis before taking any stance on the issue. Additionally, with the recent merging of the Park Authority within the PWC government, county staff has been tasked with analyzing all recreational facilities. It would seem to me that pools would fall under Parks and Recreation Division and we should see the overall inventory and their analysis as well.”
None of their responses are surprising. Most said they needed more information before they could from opinions while affirming that the school board makes decisions about school division spending.
Chairman Stewart, on the other hand, said the entire board fully supports the pool in the 12th high school.
How did we get to the point where the bid for the school is about to be released, and no one knows anything about it? Shouldn’t our elected school board and BOCs members have asked about this before they approved the county budget and CIP that included a school with a pool? Can our elected officials, who blindly approved plans for a pool in a school without asking questions, honestly claim to be good stewards of our tax dollars?