Who Are We and Why Are We here?

It’s budget season again, and I’ve re-found my desire to write, so I thought I’d give everyone a homework assignment to get things started again.

Last week PWCS posted the agenda for the next school board meeting.  Included in that agenda was an item from the Chairman proposing that the school board provide the Superintendent with guidance to help school division develop the budget for next school year. That proposed guidance reads as follows:

That the Prince William County School Board provide the Superintendent the following guidance in completing his FY 2015-16 budget:
1. Incorporate the reduction of approximately $11 million in revenue resulting from the BOCS budget guidance of a 1.3% increase in tax bills (versus the 4% increase previously adopted in the 5-year plan);
2. Include funding for an additional grade year of class size reductions by one student;
3. Include funding for a step increase for employees;
4. Cut or eliminate discretionary educational programs to balance the budget resulting from the above cuts and directed funding, to include:
a. Non-Title I Full Day Kindergarten,
b. Transportation for Specialty Programs,
c. All new CIP efforts for FY 2015-16 whether cash or debt funded, and
d. Any other discretionary programs as necessary to balance the budget.
5. Report to the School Board the concurrent reductions in administrative and management personnel resulting from the above program cuts.

This proposed guidance has generated some vigorous conversations in the community; conversations that have even been carried at WTOP.  The members of the budget committee discussed the proposed guidance and what we thought of it tonight, and it was an interesting discussion.

My conclusion is that the guidance is a starting point in a long overdue conversation about what we as a community want from our public schools.  In my opinion, the school division’s budget should reflect the priorities we’ve set for the school division.  In other words, in my opinion, we’ve been budgeting all wrong all along.

Generally, and grossly oversimplified,  the school division builds the budget for the next school year by taking the budget from the previous year, adding in a factor for inflation, compensation adjustments,  and new student growth, and what they end up with is the next year’s budget.  From there adjustments are proposed by school board members, but rarely implemented.

The problem with this process is that we haven’t defined what we think our school division’s priorities are.  We just keep plodding along in whatever direction we’re heading, hoping we get to wherever it is we want to go.  Where we want to go, and how to best get there, has never been defined. If reducing class sizes is our highest priority, then reducing class sizes should be funded before anything else, not only if there’s anything left over.  If increasing faculty and staff compensation so that it’s competitive with area norms is our top pretty, then increasing compensation should be funded before anything else, not only if there’s something left over at the end of the process.

I’m going to assume that this proposed guidance is designed to us started in determining what we want from our school division and what we think are our highest priorities.

My proposal is to start with core academic services and add on from there.  Core services being those things that are necessary to get our children to college or ready to start their careers.

Your homework is to tell the world what you think.  Start by defining core services and then move on to extras.

Are core services just graduation and statutory requirements?  Is it graduation requirements plus vocational / technical education?  Does it include AP / IB / Cambridge courses?  Does it include paying for students to take the PSAT, ACT, and AP exams, something PWCS has done for years because it improved our rankings in the Washington Post’s challenge index and other such rankings?  What is the largest class size you think we should have to provide the education necessary for our children to be college or career ready upon graduation?  Do core services include sports and extra-curricular clubs or groups?

Let’s start the conversation.  Post your thoughts here, or on our Facebook page.

 

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