Superintendent Steven L. Walts’ proposed budget for Prince William County schools combines no layoffs with pay freezes to make a frugal yet satisfying budget.
The total proposed budget is $864 million. That’s $36 million more than was spent last year. The extra bucks will enable the district to add more classrooms as planned.
As for the rest of the budget, first, the good news: Walts’ budget preserves the jobs of all school employees. For those employees living on the cusp of despair in this harsh economy, that will be a relief. This will be the first time since 2007 that nobody was axed. In fact, the school district is planning to hire 175 more teachers.
Other programs that survived in this proposed budget include English as a Second Language and free and reduced-price lunch programs. One out of every three students qualifies for the free and reduced-price lunch, so the program’s preservation is a must.
On the other hand, for the fourth year in a row no school employees will be getting pay raises. No doubt this will frustrate a great number of people, but given the preservation of jobs, it seems a fair trade off. Plus, next spring, employees will get a one percent bonus. But that will not be a recurring reward.
The pay freezes are one cost of preserving positions and programs. Here are a few others: Prince William County has the lowest per-pupil spending rate in the Washington area — $9,577 per student. That is half what Arlington and Alexandria spend. Also, while there will be no reduction in health benefits for employees, rates will increase.
In times of financial strife, Prince William County is doing what it must with the resources it has available. No district in this nation is escaping the effects of our economy. And though American finances are improving, they are by no means where they need to be.
As is always the case in situations like these, parent and teacher options are few. In order to operate the county’s school system effectively, one of two things has to happen. Either the school district makes do with less money or citizens pay out more in taxes. That is a tough line to straddle, and for every person willing to spend more for good schools, there will be another who will stand opposed to the idea.
Until the economy returns to its full flourish, these decisions will continue to be faced. And whatever the choice, the schools have to be creative if they are to keep high-quality education available for Prince William County’s children.
To read more about the proposed budget, go here.