There’s one things politicians like to do. They like to make promises they can’t keep. Politicians are also really bad at telling people the whole truth. Below are a few of the whoppers I’ve heard from about the pool from people who are far too smart to be saying such stupid things.
The pool won’t cost anything because it is a one time expense
You only build a school one time, just like you only build a house one time. But, just like building a house isn’t free, building a school isn’t free either.
Most people don’t have enough money sitting around to buy or build a house with cash from their savings accounts. So most of us have to borrow money to buy our homes. The amount we borrow is the principal of our mortgage. We borrow that money from a bank, which charges us interest on the principal of our mortgage, and pay them back over an extended period of time. The amount we pay back each month, our mortgage payment, includes both interest and principal.
That same thing happens when government entities, like school systems, build expensive things.
Schools cost millions of dollars to build, which PWCS doesn’t have sitting around in their checking account. When PWCS needs to build a new school they issue bonds to pay for the cost of building that school. The bonds, plus interest, are paid back over 20 years. The amount that PWCS pays each year for principal and interest on the bonds it has issued is called debt service.
In the 2012 – 2013 school year PWCS will pay almost $71 million in debt service on the debt it has outstanding. In the 2013 – 2014 school year PWCS projects that it will pay almost $75 million on the debt it has outstanding. The increase of $3.9 million is due to the $69 million in bonds PWCS was authorized to issue this week.
The pool is projected to cost $10,530,000. The debt service on $10,530,000 is roughly $600,000 a year.
So the pool may be a one time “expense”, but it will be paid back over 20 years, plus interest, to the tune of about $600,000 a year.
Debt service doesn’t affect the money PWCS receives to run the schools and pay our teachers.
Each year PWCS receives money from the taxpayers through the federal government, the state government, and PWC. Most of the money received from the federal government is restricted for particular programs, like Title I or IDEA. Some of the money PWCS receives from the state of Virginia is restricted for particular programs, like fringe benefits, while the rest is unrestricted. Being unrestricted means it can be used to pay for school operations instead of having to be used for a particular program.
The rest of the money PWCS receives is from the county. PWCS receives 56.75% of county tax receipts. That money is first allocated to debt service then the remainder is allocated to school operations. In the 2012 -2013 school year PWCS projected that it would receive about $446 million from PWC, $70 million of which will be used to pay the debt service on PWCS’s outstanding debt. The remaining $377 million will be used to run the schools and pay teachers.
Debt service gets paid first and it gets paid out of the 56.75% PWCS receives from the county. As debt service expense increases, the amount of money available for school operations decreases.
The pool will be cost neutral to the school division
This one comes from the PWC county parks department. Folks from the PWC parks department have been meeting with representatives from swim clubs all over the county to tell them that the pool won’t cost the school division anything, that it won’t affect class sizes or teacher compensation.
There are two ways the pool will be cost neutral to the school division; both require approval from the Board of County Supervisors to happen. Those ways are (1) the parks department reimburses PWCS for the pool’s debt service and operating costs or (2) the BOCS increases PWCS’s allocation of county tax receipts above the 56.75% currently provided. Unfortunately these plans, assuming they exist, haven’t been shared with the BOCS. The BOCS hasn’t approved any changes in the revenue sharing agreement with the school division or authorized the parks department to reimburse the school division with county money for the pool’s operating and debt service costs.
As of right now, the pool will not be cost neutral to PWCS because PWCS will have to pay the pool’s debt service and operating costs from the 56.75% it receives from PWC.
The cost of the pool is so small that it won’t affect class sizes or teacher compensation
Many pool supporters have made this statement, and there may be some truth to this one, though how much truth there is depends on your perspective.
If you assume that the debt service and operating costs of the pool will run between $600,000 and $1 million a year, then that’s probably not enough to bring classes sizes down. One million dollars a year is 10 – 15 teachers, which won’t even make a dent in reducing our class sizes. As the argument goes, if it’s not enough to bring class sizes down or increase teacher compensation, then PWCS might as well spend the money on something needed, like a swimming pool for swim teams.
Class sizes aren’t going to come down on their own and the money to being class sizes down isn’t likely to magically appear overnight. Spending an additional $600,000 – $1 million a year on a pool sure won’t help PWCS find the money to bring class sizes down.
To bring class sizes down PWCS needs a plan. PWCS needs to set a target for class sizes, not average class sizes but individual class sizes for each subject or grade level at each school, and then develop a plan for achieving those targets that is implemented in increments over several years. Some schools are so severely overcapacity that they don’t have the space to add classes and will need to consider different alternatives, like hiring aides, to address too large classes. We need to know what options are available at each school because class sizes aren’t likely to come down without a plan.
Finding the money to reduce class sizes won’t be easy. PWCS will need to scour the budget, find savings wherever possible, and allocate those savings to reducing class sizes. One thing that won’t help in the budget scouring is having to provide $600,000 and $1 million for a pool.
What’s the plan?
Unfortunately, as is so often the case with PWCS, there doesn’t appear to be a plan for anything, and that lack of a plan is making people even more incredulous regarding the Superintendent’s cries of impending financial doom.
The plans for the school pool were unknown until a few weeks ago. The actual plans still haven’t been released to the school board or BOCS. Estimates for operating the pool are unknown at this time. The pool’s $10.5 million projected construction costs were only disclosed a few days ago.
How can the school division shrug its shoulders at adding $600,000 and $1 million a year in expenses for the pool but claim to be on the brink of financial disaster?