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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?