On October 8, 2013 the Prince William County BOCS and School Board held a joint dinner session to discuss class sizes in county public schools, teacher compensation, and proffers. Below are my notes from that meeting.
Please be advised that this, unless otherwise noted, this is NOT a transcript and comments are not verbatim.
The meeting began with Dave Cline of PWCS providing a prepared presentation on class sizes and issues surrounding reducing class sizes.
Supervisor Candland: Thank you for the presentation. I guess I’d like to know what the strategy is? We keep hearing the $15 million figure, but no real plans for how to deploy that $15 million or what options there are. We need to start somewhere, but where. What is the plan?
School Board Chairman Johns: When we presented our budget we allocated no additional money to reducing class sizes. We have asked the Superintendent to develop a plan for reducing class sizes in one grade level. We will rely on the advice of school division personnel to tell us the best approach. No money has been allocated to reducing class sizes as of yet.
Supervisor Caddigan: If one child is $15 million, what are you looking at?
School Board Chairman Johns: We have a 5 year plan, but county doesn’t stick to that, so it’s difficult to plan. We haven’t made the determination as to what we’ll do first.
Supervisor Caddigan: Will a reduction of 1 child make a difference?
School Board Chairman Johns: Research shows that it will have to be in the 4 – 5 student range.
Supervisor Caddigan: So what are you looking for?
School Board Chairman Johns: $40 – $50 million for 4 -5 students.
Supervisor Nohe: That isn’t a plan. I’d like to see a plan with some data and research to back it up. I get the value overall – what I’d like to see is a plan tying the steps to be taken first to the highest value. I want to know why the plan you picked is the best plan so that I can answer my constituents questions.
BOCS Chairman Stewart: What would help us is if you came up with a proposal that says we can reduce class sizes by X and it will cost this much. Can you do that?
School Board Chairman Johns: We have never come to you with an unbalance budget before. We could present a budget with some options. I think we could do that. We’d need to include some compensation increases.
School Division Superintendent Dr Walts: We have competing interests. When we’re looking at things we can’t look in isolation. We can do a budget with a class size reduction and send that to you with our recommendations. We did that last year when we talked about 6th grade. Our high cost items are teachers, compensation, and CIP. We want to look to where we can get the most value without huge construction costs. For instance, we could reduce class sizes in the 4 content areas for 6th grade and have a significant impact. We also have to factor in compensation. Our plan is to give steps and a 2% increase in alternating years, but right now we aren’t close to meeting that.
BOCS Chairman Stewart: County has been unsound for a while. If you give us a plan that keeps things as it and that’s the result of the current tax rates…if you us an alternate plan that would necessitate increasing taxes. We would need your assurances that you would stick to that plan and you would need our assurances that we would stick to that plan.
Supervisor Nohe: What is the legal maximum class size?
School Division Superintendent Dr Walts: 28 for kindergarten, 29 for 1 – 5, and 150 student contacts per day per teacher for middle school and high school.
Supervisor Nohe: I’ve heard from parents that they are upset and want their children’s classes reduced, but not many have mentioned class sizes at other schools.
School Division Superintendent Dr Walts: We will provide you with the rationale. Talking to teachers will give you all of the information you need. Data suggest we need to go down several students.
Representative Jessie: I want to clarify. We’ve been talking about 1 student, but research indicates that it’s 4 – 5 students. If you do K – 3 classes under 18 you will see a significant increase in student performance. There is also research at the middle school and high school level, but it’s less reliable. Principals have been creative with class sizes with co-teaching, rotating, etc. Tangible evidence will be difficult to provide. For instance, we have inclusion. Inclusion is good, but it means we have additional issues with behavior and support. Our teachers are really frustrated. I could never live in a building with 35 kids in a class. We have to have teachers at the table to develop this plan.
BOCS Chairman Stewart: I want to make sure my board members will seriously consider this.
Supervisor Caddigan: Of course.
Supervisor Nohe: I’m shocked that there aren’t studies we can point to right now that show the benefits of smaller class sizes. That show that the bigger bang for our buck comes from targeting economically disadvantaged classrooms. With all the research that’s out there, there has to be something we can point to.
Representative Jessie: There are studies.
School Board Chairman Johns: Dr Walts will make sure you get those studies.
Representative Betty Covington: As Mr Nohe’s former Principal, would you like me to take care of him?
Supervisor Wally Covington: I have heard that K – 3 reductions are the best, but wonder about capacity. How much capacity do we have to do this?
School Division Superintendent Dr Walts: That’s a factor to consider.
Supervisor Wally Covington: I need more information. I’ll consider whatever we get, but I can’t say I’ll support anything without more information.
Supervisor Princippi: Yes, I’ll support it, but it has to be targeted and fiscally constrained. I think we need to target title 1 schools first.
Supervisor Candland: I’m never in favor of giving anyone a blank check. I’m concerned about lots of issues. We need to look at this in a comprehensive way, make sure we’re doing the right thing and have a plan for moving forward, and then I’d support a tax increase. We need to make sure we’re squeezing every dine as hard as possible first.
BOCS Chairman Stewart: A quick and dirty plan would be nice so that we can start planning the tax rate.
School Board Chairman Johns: Are my school board members willing to direct the Superintendent to do this?
Representative Betty Covington: Yes. I want to know – are we talking about bodies or positions? So, there are different parts we have to look at. We have a lot of specialists and sometimes they get counted even though they don’t teach classes.
Representative Dr Otaigbe: Sometimes I fell like PWCS is a victim of its own success. Look at what we can accomplish. We are the envy of most school divisions in the state. We have a lot of choices here. Lets not beat around the bush. If you give us more money we will use it. We can’t squeeze our pennies any more than we have. So yes.
Representative Trenum: I’m always up for directing the Superintendent to do stuff, so Yes. We have to start somewhere. One may not seem like much, but you can’t get to 25 without going through 28. There’s also a big difference between 25 – 26 and 28 – 30 or 33 – 35. We have to keep that mind.
Representative Keen: I was on the board when we adopted the 5 year plan. The idea then was that we had to present budgets 5 years out that balanced. This turns that on its head. Lately it seems like the 5 year plan is just a guess. You say you’ll give us an amount, we plan based on that, and then you change it. If we agree to do this, you have to keep your end of the bargain.
Representative Keen: I also have to ask, what do you [BOCS} envision for this county in 5 -10 years. What does it look like? What are our schools like? We need to start thinking longer term. Bottom line – we have to know that you’ll give us what you say you’ll give us. Don’t be shocked by the plan.
Representative Jessie: I came to this meeting with information. I have the WABE. It talks about ratios – teacher ratios versus staff ratios. At the elementary level the teacher ratios for Alexandria and PWC are 10:1 and 15:1, respectively. At the middle school level the teacher ratios for Alexandria and PWC are 11:1 and 20:1, respectively. At the high school level the teacher ratios for Alexandria and PWC are 14:1 and 21.9:1, respectively. It’s not all about money – it’s about class sizes and changing the way we teach.
Representative Bell: I do support this. I agree with Ms Jessie that we need to include all stakeholders. This chart on the presentation is misleading. All of my schools are title 1 and we have the title 1 money and the K-3 grant to keep class sizes below 23. I look at Penn, which isn’t title 1, and classes are at 28. It’s hard to explain that. We need to make sure we’re doing this equitably.
Representative Satterwhite: Marty, you asked for research. I have several articles I can suggest for you [lists them]. We may need to consider reducing class sizes at our at risk schools first. Yes, I support this.
Supervisor Nohe: Alyson, you the man!
School Board Chairman Johns: Support his – what they said.
BOCS Chairman Stewart: We’ve had a good blunt discussion here. Dr Otaigbe is correct. You guys have been squeezing as hard as you can, but at some point you can’t squeeze anymore. When the proposal comes down I don’t want some BOCS member to say the school division hasn’t squeezed enough. That’s a political one liner. If anyone thinks reducing class sizes can be accomplished without increasing taxes in out years, speak now.
Supervisor Candland: Since that’s my line I’ll respond to that. I take offense to the implication. I would correct you and say that no one has been a greater advocate for increasing funding for our schools than me. I am absolutely committed to helping our schools and have worked with Mrs Caddigan to bring that about. It was me who proposed changing or eliminating the revenue sharing agreement so that more of our resources go towards our schools. If the school division can show me that this money will go towards reducing class sizes, then I’m all for it. The plan has to show it and I’ll be the first one in line. A lot of this falls to the feet of the BOCS. I know that was directed towards me. I put myself out there for our schools. I’ll be nice now and say yes.
BOCS Chairman Stewart: No member of the BOCS things class size reductions can be accomplished through savings elsewhere in the budget.
Supervisor May: I would like to see us come up with a 5 year plan we can all live with and then stick to it. We all have budgets and have to stick to those budgets.
Supervisor Caddigan: One of the problems this year was we put out a rate and then changed it. We do need to stick to what we say we’re going to do.
Supervisor Nohe: I proposed a budget that changed the revenue split. We took the cuts on our side. So no, I don’t think this can be accomplished with efficiencies.
Representative Betty Covington: We talk about the need to lower class sizes but brag about test scores. That’s because of our wonderful teachers.
BOCS Chairman Stewart: IS there any ares of the budget that can be improved?
Supervisor Candland: I have a report about administrative staff state-wide. How does PWCS compare?
School Board Chairman Johns: We are lean administratively.
Representative Jessie: Look att eh WABE.
Supervisor Candland: Some say it costs more to build in PWCS than elsewhere int eh region. Do yo have the data to show that our costs aren’t too high?
School Board Chairman Johns: Lots of factors affect that.
Dave Cline [PWCS]: there are lots of factors that affect the price like the year the school was built, the economic situation at the time, the size of the building, and site issues.
No questions on compensation. PWC staff are currently reviewing a revising proffers. No new news to report on pool. Bids will be presented to the school board on December 18.