Jim Livingston is the President of the Prince William Education Association. Several times he’s asked the school board and school division what their plans are for improving teacher pay and reducing class sizes. To my knowledge, his question has never been answered. The reason for that is quite simple, PWCS has no plans for reducing class sizes or improving teacher pay.
If you ask parents across the county to name the single biggest issue facing our school system right now, they will tell you that it’s class sizes. If you ask teachers across the county to name the single biggest issue facing our school system right now, they will tell you that it’s class sizes.
What’s the school division’s plan to address class sizes? Hiding their heads in the sand and hoping the answer will magically appear.
In the list of budgetary priorities the Superintendent provided, nowhere was reducing class sizes mentioned. Whenever anyone brings it up, the canned response from school division representatives and school board members alike is that it will take $15 million to reduce classes by 1 student in each grade level in each school. The school division, and school board for that matter, appear to believe that the only way class sizes will be reduced is if more than $15 million miraculously lands in their laps.
Here’s a hint. Short of hitting lotto, that’s not going to happen.
It took us years to reach the point where class sizes were this huge. Years of picking the low hanging fruit of increasing class sizes to avoid having to make difficult decisions about cutting or reducing programs or scaling back construction efforts.
Class sizes didn’t get where they are over night, and won’t come down overnight, either. We need a long term plan for reducing class sizes over multiple years with projected costs for each year. Then we scour the budget for every penny, nickel, and dime and allocate it to class size reductions, and if we’re unable to find the money to pay for any given year’s class size reductions, we go to the BOCS and ask for more money.
It’s not just in class sizes where PWCS has no plan or vision for the future. Take the Governor’s School at Innovation Park.
The Governor’s School is a great idea. It’s a collaboration with GMU that affords students access to the high tech labs that GMU has and allows them to take college level courses at a college while still in high school. It’s also a 2-year part time program that leaves students at their base schools for half a day and then has them go to GMU for the other half. No wonder interest in the program is less than anticipated.
So what’s the vision for the Governor’s School?
That sound you hear is crickets chirping, because there is no vision for what the Governor’s school will be in 10, 15, or 25 years and no strategy for getting there.
When it comes to lack of planning and a willingness to adapt as situations change, school construction and overcrowding probably wins first place.
Take Patriot High School, which opened in the Fall of 2010. In the Fall of 2015, when this year’s 6th graders start high school, Patriot is projected to be almost 1,000 students overcapacity. The school opened two years ago, was built to house 2,053 students, and will have almost 3,000 students in attendance.
What’s the school division’s plan for addressing overcrowding at Patriot?
Trailers for 1,000 students. That’s over 30 trailers. At one school. And the 13th high school, which is currently scheduled to open in 2019, long after our current 6th graders have graduated and gone on to college, can’t be moved up a year earlier because of political payback.
What we ill informed mere citizens don’t realize is that PWCS desperately needs a $111 million school built from an award winning design with 372,000 square feet, dance and video production studios, and an indoor pool for swim teams. It’s irrelevant that Freedom High school is more than adequate to meet our students’ needs, provided the same number of seats as the 12th high school will, and opened in 2004 at a cost of $40 million for 295,000 square feet.
Building a school that wins architectural awards and LEED certifications but costs more than we can afford when a perfectly acceptable, lower cost alternative is available, is unconscionable. The 12th and 13th high schools are projected to cost $230 million, combined; Freedom was $40 million. Those schools will house the same number of students. How much would it cost to build two high schools like Freedom today? If we could get two Freedom style high schools for $30 or $40 million less than two Patriot style LEED certified schools, could we build both back to back like we did with Freedom and Battlefield? That would give us 4,100 additional high school seats in just a few years. We’d actually have excess capacity in some of our high schools! Considering that requires that some elected official be brave enough to face the political consequences of asking.
As certain elected officials have implied, debt service and operating costs associated with the dance / video production studios and pool in the 12th high school aren’t anywhere near the $15 million needed to reduce class sizes, so there’s no harm in adding them. We may have 40 kids in Math classes, the lowest paid teachers in the area, and 1,000 students at one school in trailers all day, but we have a pool, by golly!
When will the school board and school division pull their heads out of the sand, pull the plugs from their ears, and start thinking long term? PWCS, we need a plan. Not games. Not cap feathering with architectural awards.
PWCS, What’s the plan?