Gil Trenum Says “School Pool” Ineffective Use of Taxpayer Funds

The letter below was sent by Brentsville District School Board Representative Gil Trenum to each representative of the PWC Board of County Supervisors and School Board on August 3, 2013.  It is published here, in its entirety, with Mr Trenum’s permission.

August 3, 2013

Chairman Stewart,

I am writing to you because I am out of town on Navy Reserve duty and unable to attend the Joint BOCS-School Board meeting on August 6th.  I wanted to be sure that you are aware of my thoughts and concerns regarding the proposed pool complex at the 12th High School site location.

I do not dispute the need for additional swim facilities in Prince William County. However, providing recreational swim opportunities is not the core mission of the School Division. This is the responsibility of the County Parks and Recreation Department. The County Park and Recreation Department website says: “The Prince William County Department of Parks & Recreation provides indoor and outdoor recreational opportunities to the residents of Prince William County.”  When we intentionally duplicate services with multiple county government organizations we are not effectively spending the tax dollars that our constituents have granted us stewardship over.

Some have compared the building of a swimming pool at the 12 high School site to building of gymnasiums and field facilities. I disagree with this comparison. When we build gymnasiums and fields we build them for use by our students in school-related activities and they are built to meet these requirements and in accordance with state guidelines. The proposed pool complex is built to meet larger community needs and requirements, not school needs. In its presentation to the School Board the PWCS Administration included non-school related benefits such as use by elderly citizens for exercise and therapy, additional swimming lanes for non-school teams, life guard and rescue trainees, and recreational swimmers in all age groups from across Prince William County to justify the cost of the facility. These are all worthy uses, but they are not the responsibility of the School Division.

At one point the administration even suggested that we could use the pool facility to host birthday parties to generate revenue … I hope that an explanation as to how this is not a PWCS responsibility is not needed.

The school division is not adequately funded to support the construction, operations and maintenance costs associated with the pool complex. The capital costs alone will be on average approximately $725K per year (more in the early years, less later on) for the next 20 years.  PWCS administration estimates are that the operational costs will be $800K annually. The administration estimates that they can generate revenue equal to 70-100% of this cost assuming 100% utilization (that’s a lot of birthday parties). I believe that this assumption is overly optimistic and that we will come nowhere near 100% utilization. I feel that a better example of the revenue that can be generated is in Arlington County where in their best years they generate revenue of approximately 50% of operating costs. That puts us somewhere between $250K – $400K in additional operating costs annually (plus inflation) for a total of $1M – $1.2M in annual costs over and above any revenue that is generated for the next 20 years to pay for the pool facility.

We simply do not have the resources to support the additional expenses associated with the swimming pool, make any progress in reducing class sizes (we have the highest student-teacher ratio in the state), execute our CIP to accommodate the expected growth and hope to maintain competitive compensation packages for our teaching staff. The School Division does not control the revenue sources we depend on. The two primary sources are state funding and the county transfer. The percentages vary from year to year but they typically represent approximately 85%-90% of our revenue. At the state level the Cost of Competing Allowance (CoCA) has been under attack for the last couple of budget cycles. This past year the Governor’s proposed budget eliminated the CoCA completely. At the end of the day the final state budget included a partial restoration, but the resulting hit to our school division was still several million dollars. It is reasonable to assume that the CoCA will continue to be targeted for elimination and we should plan accordingly.

Every year during the budget process the School Division presents a five-year plan based on revenue estimates from the state and the county. The revenue estimates that we use for the county side of the equation are provided by the county. In recent years the BOCS has consistently funded the school division at levels less than what was provided in their estimates, so while we don’t know exactly how much the BOCS intends to fund the school division next year (and in the out years) we can be reasonably confident that it will be less than what we were told this year and the following year will be less than what you tell us next year. This economic uncertainty is just not the appropriate environment for the school division to take on the capital and operational expenses associated with new programs and services that are not a part of the PWCS mission.

As I said in the beginning, I do not dispute the need for additional swim facilities in Prince William County. The school division and the county certainly should work together to more effectively spend tax dollars and I see this as an opportunity to do so. Per its own web site the county recognizes that pool facilities are within the purview of the Parks and Recreation Department. I fully support the county building, operating and maintaining a pool complex at the site of the 12th high school. This is a good location for such a facility and this would save the county the cost and process of acquiring a separate site. The school division has already paid for the design and engineering plans associated with the pool complex; the county could use these designs and not have to incur these costs. The school division will have to do the site work and build the parking lot for the school, so these costs would not be borne by the county as well.

Thank you for your time. I am sorry that I am not able to attend the meeting but I hope you all have a productive discussion.

Very Respectfully,

Gil Trenum

Brentsville District School Board Representative.


4 Responses to “Gil Trenum Says “School Pool” Ineffective Use of Taxpayer Funds”

  1. Shirley Collins Says:

    Agree with your stand, Brentsville Rep on School Board, Trenum…but had to stop and comment at the funny, or not so funny statement, of School Administration that this will be a benefit to Senior Citizens…what a joke and Dr. Walts and his colleagues are most certainly aware of that fact..

  2. rgb Says:

    Gil Trenum appears to be the lone voice of reason on the PWCS Board. Sure, it would be great to have additional swimming facilities in PW County. But this IS NOT THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PWCS SCHOOL BOARD!!! Swimming pools are not educational requirements – they are PW County Parks and Recreation requirements. The only reason this is being pushed as a PWCS Schools isssue is because the PWCS Chairman and Colesville PWCS Board Member (Michael Otaigbe) want to see their names on the facility as a personal legacy-building initiative so they can move on to bigger and better political positions within PWCS. After all, it’s not their money, it’s other peoples’ money. And they ought to be ashamed.

  3. Cynthia Says:

    Thank you Mr. Trenum. It is nice to see someone is looking at the responsibilities of the school board in regards to the addition of a pool at the 12th high school. We have over crowded schools, fewer funds, some schools well below capacity, and little in the way of funds for raises for our teachers. It is not the responsibility of the school system to teach kids to swim; we are supposed to teach them to read, write, and do math.

  4. Parent of Swimmers Says:

    Well said. Thank you Mr. Trenum.

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