Can PWCS Cut Its Way to Victory?
It is well-known that Prince William County's schools have the highest class sizes in the state. Over the years, as revenues, from both the state and BOCS, have not kept pace with growth in student population, the situation has slowly gotten worse because cuts have had to be made in the budget, which have also included higher special education case loads and stagnant teacher compensation.
Ask any teacher or staff member that works for PWCS and they will supply you a laundry list of additional cuts that have been felt in schools as a result of austere budgets. These cuts include, but are definitely not limited to: lack of funding for substitutes, lack of supplies (such as paper), less custodial support, longer turnaround for work orders, cuts at the administration complex resulting in less support for schools and teachers, and so forth.
Despite these realities, there is a fantasy out there that the only way to lower class sizes and case loads is to make more cuts. I am not justifying every spending decision by PWCS, however, it should be understood that just because one person does not benefit from a program that is being funded, that doesn't mean it is not vital for someone else. I do agree there should be more transparency and spending should be done in the most prudent way with what limited funds are available.
However, both Fairfax and Loudoun Counties are able to provide smaller class sizes and lower Special education case loads because their school systems receive more local funding, and thus, have a higher per-pupil expenditure. To reduce class sizes by just one student in all grade levels costs $15 million. The reduce class sizes to the levels of Loudoun and Fairfax Counties or pre-recession levels would require significantly more investment, especially when space is needed to house additional classrooms.
In terms of pies, it is obvious that to fund what Loudoun and Fairfax Counties are able to fund with their significantly larger pies, we cannot cut into our smaller pie.
After years of cuts have already been made, there is no way to find $150 million - $200 million in cuts without gutting our school system as we know it. That's not World-Class.
* In the short term, The BOCS should adopt the Advertised Tax Rate so additional cuts do not need to be made to the adopted PWCS budget.
* In the future, the School Board and PWCS Administration should propose a budget around needs, not based on what funding will be expected by the BOCS and Richmond. This makes a bold statement to the community.
* In the long term, The BOCS needs to work with the School Board on a long-term plan to provide the revenues needed to lower class sizes and case loads. The magnitude of the situation shows this cannot be done in one year or even five years.