The lies , distortions, and deliberate misrepresentations about the school pool have continued and even expanded in scope. In an attempt to lift us up above the chlorine fumes, below are few clarifications.
Any numbers cited are from the Superintendent’s proposed budget because the final, approved budget for this school year isn’t available on the PWCS web site.
Debt Doesn’t Matter
I heard this one from a number of extremely intelligent people, including teachers, school Principals, Associate Superintendents, and union officials. When people that smart say something that stupid I want to bang my head against the wall and scream.
When you buy a house you don’t typically pay the entire cost of the house with cash. Most people just don’t have that sort of cash lying around. Most people have to borrow money from a bank to buy a house. The bank doesn’t give us that money for free, they expect us pay it back over time, plus a little extra. The note the bank holds is called a mortgage and most of us have to pay our mortgage every month. Most of us get the money we use to pay our mortgage from the salaries we receive for working our jobs. Most of us went into debt to buy our houses and have to pay that debt back every month with the money we earn from our employers.
It’s the same thing with the school division. Building new schools costs lots of money – money most school division’s don’t have lying around. So they go into debt to build new schools (and for renovations, some renewals, expansions, etc). Because public school divisions are government entities, they can’t just go to the bank and borrow $100 million. Instead they issue bonds. Bonds are the school division’s mortgage. Just like the rest of us, the school division has to pay back the bonds they’ve issued over time, plus a little bit extra. The school division’s debt payments even have a special name – they’re called debt service expenses.
Every year the school division receives money from lots of different sources – the federal government, the state government, grants, and the county government. Money from grants and from the state and federal governments has to be used for particular purposes – it can’t be used to pay debt service expense. The school division’s debt service expenses are paid for with the money the school division receives from the county government.
PWCS has outstanding debt of about $600 million ($550 million as of June 30,2011 from the 2012 – 2013 Approved Budget). This year PWCS will pay $75 million in debt service expense for that $600 million in debt. That $75 million will be paid out of the school division’s allocation of county tax receipts. PWCS’ debt service cost per pupil is about $900.
The school pool is projected to cost $10.5 million to build. Construction costs will be paid for with bonds that will be repaid over a 20 year period. The debt service expense from those bonds will be about $722,000 per year, on average, which will be paid out of the school division’s allocation of county tax receipts.
With 12 high school swim teams and 60 students on each team, the debt service expense for the school pool will be about $1,000 per high school swimmer per year. That’s more than the debt service cost per pupil for all of the debt the school division holds.
The Pool Won’t Cost Anything
PWCS projects that the school pool will cost about $800,000 per year to operate and that debt service expense for the debt issued to build the pool will be about $722,000 per year. That’s a total cost of about $1.5 million per year.
PWCS projects that they will be able to recoup about 70% – 100% of the pool’s operating costs from usage fees. This is based on the pool being used by the public all day long, however, the pool will not be open to the public when students are using it for school sponsored activities.
PWCS projects that the school pool will cost about $1 million a year, net of usage fees (see BOCS-SB Mttg – 10:8:13). That $1 million will be paid out of the school division’s allocation of county tax receipts.
Sorry folks, but that’s from PWCS. $1 million a year for pool for 720 kids. That’s about $1,400 per high school swimmer, just to provide the facility.
It’s the Same Bucket of Money
The Prince William County BOCS has a long established revenue sharing agreement with the school division. That agreement stipulates the fixed percentage of taxes received by the county will be given to the school division. The school division is expected to fund it’s operations and debt service expense with that allocation.
Last year the BOCS approved a one year adjustment of the revenue sharing percentage because they lowered the property tax rate and wanted to mitigate the impact of the reduction in tax receipts on the school division. Prior to last year, I can’t remember the last time the revenue sharing agreement was adjusted.
The revenue sharing agreement means PWCS gets approximately 57% of county tax receipts. The county gets the remaining 43%. Increasing the school’s percentage means there’s less for police, fire, rescue, and parks.
PWCS will have to pay for the school pool with the 57% of county tax receipts they are allocated. The BOCS could decide to increase the school division’s allocation to provide enough to cover the expenses from the school pool, or they could decide not to. There is no guarantee that the BOCS will increase the school division’s allocation to provide enough to cover the expenses from the school pool.
Unless the BOCS agrees to provide the funds for the school pool’s debt service and operating expenses in perpetuity, that means $1 million will need to be found in the school division’s budget. This is money that would otherwise be used for classrooms and teachers and schools.
Other Sports Get Their Own Fields
They sure do, and they don’t have to share them with the public. This is a choice PWCS has made – other school divisions make their fields, tracks, and courts available to the public and recreation leagues.
The football fields are used by multiple teams – football, field hockey, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, boys soccer, girls soccer, field events for indoor and outdoor track, and for marching band competitions. Lately we’ve been installing turf fields at our high schools based on reports that the turf fields are less expensive to install and maintain than are grass fields (I’d like to see the math on that).
School pool supporters have a point about access, but, based on their argument, the higher priority should be for PWCS to provide an indoor track for indoor track teams. We have indoor track teams at every high school and middle school in the county. More students participate in indoor track than high school swimming. Indoor tracks are relatively inexpensive to build, can be rented for events, and can be used by the public for walking and running when teams aren’t practicing. There isn’t a single indoor track in the county, public or private, for our indoor track teams to use. Indoor track meets, which are in the winter, are held on the outdoor tracks. Regional competitions are held in Maryland because that’s the closest indoor track that’s available to our children.
A few of our high schools and middle schools have ice hockey teams, but we don’t have ice rinks in our schools. Our high school and middle school ice hockey teams use the public rink in Woodbridge and the private rink in Haymarket for games and practice.
It would be nice to be able to provide practice and game / meet facilities for all of our high school sports teams. For many the sports that don’t have dedicated facilities, like golf and swimming and ice hockey, community use of the facilities for things other than team sports far exceed the use by high school teams. In those instances it’s more cost effective and fills a greater community need to provide facilities for the entire community that are available to the team sports leagues, than to provide facilities just for high school teams.
Everyone Agrees that Another Pool is Needed in the County
I’ve yet to meet anyone who thinks we have too many indoor pools in the county. Most of the people I’ve spoken with agree that we need an additional indoor pool. That’s why residents approved the referendum in 2006 authorizing the county to add an additional competition pool to the Chinn Center.
The problem, at least in my opinion, is that the county never delivered on their promise to add an additional pool to the Chinn Center and now we have an even bigger deficit of swim lanes in the county available to residents.
See, it’s not just high school swim teams that need additional swimming facilities. It’s not just private swim clubs, that require their members to swim at 4 am to participate, that need additional swim lanes. It’s senior citizens and parents and children who have never been on nor will ever be on a swim team.
The pool is needed to support our entire community, not just high school swim teams and private swimming clubs.
To me that means the school pool should be a PWC park facility. It should be Prince William County Parks and Recreation that runs the recreation center co-located at the 12th high school. The county could use the bonds from the 2006 referendum to pay for the school pool and use their staff to manage and operate the pool. The school division would have to subsidize the pool with on-site security and utilities expenses, but the bulk of the expenses and all of the user fee revenue would go to the county. High school teams would have to book lane time at the pool just like they do with the recreation centers in the county. But we’d have another recreation center with an indoor pool available to all county residents all the time.