Questions for the Woodbridge School Board Candidates

Two candidates are running to represent Woodbridge residents on the PWC School Board: Steve Keen and Loree Williams.   To my knowledge, no debates between the two candidates have been scheduled.  There are number of issues facing our school division, so I thought I’d ask the candidates a few questions.

The questions are listed below the fold and have been sent to each of the candidates.   I will publish any responses I receive from them.

School Pool

PWCS is proposing building an indoor aquatics complex at the 12th high school.  According to PWCS, the pool will allow the school division to provide swimming lessons to students and will provide much needed lane space for private and high school swim teams.  PWCS projects that the pool will cost approximately $10.5 million to build and approximately $800,000 per year to operate.  Annual payments on the debt issued to pay for the pool are expected to cost $723,000, on average, for the next 20 years.  County residents and visitors will pay a fee to use the pool.  PWCS projects that the usage fees received will cover 70 – 100% of the pool’s annual operating costs, but not the debt payments.  The net effect is that PWCS will have to subsidize the pool by roughly $650,000 – $1.25 million each year from the school division’s share of local tax receipts.

Bids for the pool are expected to be received and presented to the school board in December or January of this school year, which means one of your first votes as the newly elected Woodbridge representative will be whether to authorize the school division to build the pool.

(1) Do you believe the pool is a wise choice for PWCS and why?

(2) Would you vote to approve the pool, assuming the construction bids come in close to the estimated $10.5 million cost?

(3) If you would vote to approve the pool, how would you propose that the school division pay for it?

Class Sizes

Parents and teachers across the county are bemoaning the size of classes in our schools.  Several years ago the school board, at the suggestion of the Superintendent, decided to push class sizes to the state maximum so that additional funds would be available for other priorities.  As a result, many middle and high school classes now have over 35 students in them; many elementary classes have 25 – 28 students in them.

Representatives of PWCS have said that it will cost $15 million to reduce class sizes by one student in every grade level in every school and that reducing classes further will require a factor of that $15 million.  The Superintendent said, in an article published in local media, that teacher quality matters more than class sizes.

(1)  Do you class sizes need to be reduced in PWCS?

(2) Assuming you do,

(a) what would you think needs to be done to reduce class sizes; and,

(b) how will you pay for it?

Teacher Compensation

Compensation for PWCS faculty and staff lags behind area norms.  According to the WABE, PWCS teachers work one more contract day for the same hours and lower average salaries than their colleagues in neighboring jurisdictions.  Starting salaries for PWCS teachers are among the lowest in the region.  Coupled with our larger than average class sizes, attracting the most qualified new college graduates and retaining qualified teachers is becoming increasingly difficult.

(1) Do you believe this needs to be rectified, how would you rectify it, and how would you pay for it?

Budget

PWCS will present the Superintendent’s proposed FY 2014 – 2015 budget in February.  School budgets in our county have been tight since the economic downturn in 2008.  While the economic situation has improved, it hasn’t improved significantly.  Enrollment continues to increase in county public schools.  The School Board requested that the school division prepare plans for a zero based budget this year, though plans for that budget have not yet been presented to the school board. Barring an unexpected windfall, PWCS’s budget for next school year is likely to be just as tight, if not tighter, than this year’s budget.

(1)  Several of your colleagues asked residents of their districts to serve on budget committees.  If elected, will you form a committee to review and advise you on the school division’s proposed budget?

(2)  Do you believe there are savings that can be found in the school division’s budget?

CIP

The PWCS Capital Improvements Program (CIP) lists all of the infrastructure improvements and new construction projects PWCS has planned.  The CIP lists both renewals and renovations of existing facilities and new construction projects.  Some of these projects are paid for with bonds while others are paid for with the school division’s annual allocation of tax receipts.  Bonds funded projects are paid back over 20 years through debt service expense.

Over the next 5 years PWCS plans to complete CIP projects at an estimated cost of $789 million.  The CIP was not reviewed or updated during the budget discussions for the 2013 – 2014 school year budget because the bids for the 12th high school were expected in the Spring.  The bids for the 12th high school have been pushed back to the December / January timeframe, but discussion and revision of the CIP has not been scheduled.

(1) Do you believe it is feasible for PWCS to spend approximately $789 million over the next 5 years on CIP projects?

(2)  If projects need to be postponed or canceled, which projects would you postpone or cancel?

School Overcrowding

Many of our schools are overcrowded.  Benton Middle School recently eliminated block scheduling because the blocks resulted in classes that exceeded state class size maximums.  Marsteller Middle School eliminated block scheduling last year ago for the same reason.  Patriot High School will be about 1,000 students overcapacity in a couple of years, and the 12th high school will not relieve overcrowding there.  The 13th high school isn’t scheduled to open until 2019.  The next middle school isn’t scheduled to open until 2018.

(1)  Do you believe school overcrowding is an issue?

(2)  What do you believe can be done to address school overcrowding?

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8 Responses to “Questions for the Woodbridge School Board Candidates”

  1. Ken Reynolds Says:

    Excellent questions!!

  2. allielandrysays Says:

    Hello,
    I am working as a freelance reporter for Potomac Local. I have interviewed Keen and will soon be interviewing Williams. These stories should be posted within the next month, So keep a lookout on Potomac Local News and I will do what I can help to address these questions!
    Regarding the pool, I will tell you that Keen says four people were originally in favor of the pool and three were starkly against it, and then there was Keen, He says if the proposal the superintendent brought forward and the revenue sharing agreement (a 5-year plan I will go into some detail with within my article) don’t change, he will oppose it because he says the Woodbridge district suffers the most with budget costs. However, he says that because parents are so busy in the district, having a pool could be beneficial for children to have aquatic instruction be added to the physical education program and if the Board of County Supervisors wants to put this through, they must abide by the tax measures set in the 5-year buget plan and integrate the cuts back in.

    Hope this helped some!

    • Ken Reynolds Says:

      Thank you for sharing light on this. BUT, why dont they build a public pool rather than something the educators will need to run? Once the school getsit, the pool will be highly regulated, as it should be, by and for students…………..and if one school gets a pool, whats to stop all new schools getting one and the enormous costs of running one …just for students?

      • allielandrysays Says:

        That’s a good question. Looks like our SB candidates need a little more detail on regulation and maintenance issues. Maybe this is something that should be talked about with the Board of Supervisors. From my understanding, the Superintendent passed down the measure to the board of supervisors, and now the school board must vote on whether or not it is something they want to move forward with. My understanding is also that the pool will be open to the community at some point to and not solely for students and swim teams. However, *personal opinion* I do agree the focus should be on teacher pay and school funding, those sort of educational issues, and not so much on whether or not the 12th H.S. will be getting a pool, using more money from the budget, that is needed to attract and retain quality teachers.

      • Ken Reynolds Says:

        Well said Allie……i would not like to see however, educators trying to run the pool for the public…..they really have enough to do!!!

      • pwceducationreform Says:

        The school board and BOCS have met about the pool.

        Here’s the history of the school pool, as I know it. I’m sure there have been back room deals that have happened that haven’t leaked.

        In 2006 county residents authorized PWC to issue debt to, among other things, expand the Chinn Aquatics and Fitness Center to include another competition pool and a therapy pool. Bonds were authorized, preliminary designs were drafted, and proffer funds were allocated to the project. In 2008, in the wake of the economic downturn, expanding Chinn was deferred. It is still deferred.

        In 2008 PWCS applied to the planning commission to build the 12th high school in land it had acquired beside the county landfill. That application was for a 2053 student high school and was approved.

        In 2009 the school division added the 12th high school to the Capital Improvements Program (CIP). High level schematics form the school were prepared by Moseley Architects. Those plans included an indoor competition pool. The only mention of the pool was one sentence in the PO executed between Moseley Architects and PWCS. No mention of the pool was or ever has been included in the CIP for the 12th high school, nor was the school division’s plan to add a pool to a school disclosed to the public.

        In the summer / fall of 2012 Gil Trenum requested a meeting of the School Board to discuss the CIP. That meeting was held after the regular school board meeting on November 20, 2012. It was open to the public but was not televised. During that meeting, Dave Cline confirmed for the first time “in public” that the school division intended to build a pool at the 12th high school. No mention of this plan was provided to the public. Only people who were at that meeting heard Dave confirm this.

        In December 2012 / January 2013 PWCS began planning the 12th high school and pool. Their meetings included the head of PWC parks and recreation, who advised the school division on how to design the pool to be as much like a recreation center as possible. Neither the school board nor the public were informed that these meeting had been taking place. The BOCS was not advised that parks and rec employees were advising the school division on how to best design their “aquatics complex”.

        In February of 2013 I addressed the school board and questioned the wisdom of the school division building and operating a pool when our classes are too large, our teachers are underpaid, and many schools are so strapped for cash that they ration paper. That was the first time anyone, outside of the group that watches the school board, had heard one word about the school pool. The school division was forced to admit that they were in fact planning on building a pool at the 12th high school.

        This summer the school board and BOCS held a joint dinner meeting. The meeting was open to the public but was not televised. The school pool was the primary topic of conversation. At no time did anyone on the BOCS propose or suggest that county parks and recreation should be responsible for the pool.

        Melissa Peacor, PWC Chief Executive, responding to a request from Supervisor Candland, prepared a report showing that $14 million remains of the bonds authorized in the 2006 referendum (part of which was supposed to be used to expand the Chinn Center). Chairman Stewart strongly opposes using that money to build the pool at the 12th high school. Supervisor Nohe said that he needed to see other plans for pools before he’d agree to use county bonds for the pool at the 12th high school. Supervisor Covington said the entire thing had been done badly and that the school division’s secrecy had undermined the process. Supervisor Princippi said he thinks the pool is a great idea because his daughter, who swims on a private year round team, has to get up for practice at 4 am. Supervisor May said nothing.

  3. allielandrysays Says:

    Reblogged this on Allie Landry Says: and commented:
    Great questions to consider when talking to candidates. The pool is specific to the district, but the other issues affect virtually every area of Northern Virginia. I would add to the list: Transportation Problems and the effect this has on successful schools as well as how we can attract and retain quality educators outside of compensation.

    • Ken Reynolds Says:

      I think its a damn shame that our teachers are among the lowest paid in northern virginia………….just not fair…….


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