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New Taxes on Food, Fun, Considered to Pay for Class-Size Reduction in Prince William

WOODBRIDGE, Va. — When it comes to raising money to reduce class sizes in Prince William County, will property taxes go up, or will new taxes be levied on food, fun, and vices?

Officials elected to both the County Board of Supervisors and the School Board are wrangling with reducing the number of students per teacher in Prince William’s public schools. The county boasts the largest class sizes in the Washington, D.C. region.

A new plan presented by Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Walts targets the kindergarten, 6th, and 9th grade levels, and calls for hiring more teachers and implementing instructional coaches to help children through these most transitional years of scholastic life.

“There may be some who look at this and say ‘I might agree to start at one grade level,’ or ‘why did you just do three grade levels?’ So, I’m sure a lot of people have different feelings about this,” said Walts. “I was trying to strike a point at which I thought we might be able to get five members of both Boards to support this. This is not set in stone, this does not have to be the plan, in the short amount of time we had to prepare it is a solid plan we can stand behind, one we can defend, and it’s a start.”

The class-size reduction plan is slated to cost taxpayers an estimated $3.6 million if implemented in the 2014-15 school year. Budgeted over the next five years, the plan by 2019 is expected to cost $21.6 million, mainly due to an increase in funding from the county, and a decrease in state funding, for teachers and staff enrolled in the Virginia Retirement System.

The plan identifies changes at the 6th grade level first, hiring 16 new teachers. Next, about 13 new kindergarten teachers would be hired to reduce class rations from 23:1 to 21:1, and the class size maximum cap from 28 to 27 students. Then, 11 new math teachers would be hired for 9th grade students, and they would “ensure high achievement results in Geometry, Algebra I, and Algebra II,” according to Walts’ plan. An instructional coaches would also be hired to support teachers in each of these grade levels.

Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland, who last week called for an increase to the 57.23% of the annual automatic funding transfer from county coffers to the Schools’ nearly $1 billion budget, but did not say exactly how much he would increase it by, said Walts’ plan did not go far enough.

“This conversation seems to only happen once in a generation where we get together and talk about changes to the way we fund education here, and its taken us years to sit here and get ginned up enough to sit here and really get serous about this and I was expecting a bolder plan,” said Candland.

One option to pay for the reduction plan is to raise the county’s property tax rate about 1 cent to generate $4.5 million dollars. A rise the assessed property values could easily generate the cash, but Prince William County Executive Melissa Peacor said officials shouldn’t count on rising property values as a guaranteed funding source.

Then there’s enacting a round of taxes not currently imposed in Prince William County. They include a meals tax charged to those who dine out, an admissions tax charged at entertainment venues, and a tax on cigarettes. Each would generate $16 million, $1.1 million, and $3.3 million, respectively, said Prince William Deputy County Executive Christopher Martino, who is expected to give a full brief on the impact levying these new taxes next week at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Walts said about 200 indicators are monitored at the state level to gauge student success, from Standards of Learning testing to graduation rate. If the plan is enacted and those numbers go up, it is a sure sign the plan is working, he said.

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  • So much for relying on economic development.

  • ourschools

    Short time to work on a plan? Laughable! Why wasn’t Dr. Walts working on a plan earlier? In March of 2012 the school directed Dr. Walts to but all new “found” funds to class reduction. That did not happen. In March 2013 the school board once again stated that class size reduction was a priority. In Dr. Walt’s June 2013 performance review the Superintendent was tasked with coming up with a plan to begin to decrease classroom size. So this past month it seems he actually started to develop a plan & that seems to be because the BOCS pushed for it. The planned was not vetted with the public or with teachers. Where was the input from principals and teachers? There was none because God forbid we ask those in direct contact with the students what would help them the most.

  • Good grief

    This county has bragged for so long as to how wonderful, affluent and wealthy it is that believe they actually are starting to believe their own spin. More taxes? Maybe County Executive has a point as many homeowners will perhaps flee.

  • firestorm

    Until Walts is told specifics there really isn’t much he can do. Prince William County Schools have been underfunded for the past 30 or so years. Now everyone is in a panic.

    It is especially provoking to watch the Board of Supervisors act like apes discovering fire. Every year there has been a parade of poor beleaguered teachers filing past those supervisors talking of over-crowded classrooms. They have pointed out that they have not had a raise to speak of in years. No one must have been paying attention.

    Walts and the School Board can only deal with the money that they have. Each year they are given a warning as to exactly how little they are getting. The crisis conditions squarely rest on the shoulders of the Board of Supervisors. to attempt to let any of them off the hook is simply irresponsible.

    They need to be working as uniters, not dividers.

  • Don Phillips

    From this article I can definitely say the new math teachers are desperately needed. The phrase, “to reduce class rations from 21:1 to 23:1”, is completely turned around! First, it should be “ratios”, not “rations”. Second, it should read “to 21:1 from 23:1”; otherwise the author is describing an increase, not a decrease in class size.

    • Rich

      To Don,

      The “reduce class rations from 21:1 to 23:1” is referring to the number of students per teacher. The higher the first number (21 or 23), the less teachers per student, which is a reduction.

      • Good grief

        So Rich, is that the new math being taught to chidren rather than to just report the number of students per teacher as being the goal? Sounds like that fuzzy math to me.

  • tom

    Tax tax tax tax. Typical government. Never an attempt to be more efficient. No wonder we are in trouble. Idiots are minding the store.

  • Shirley Collins

    I certainly agree with Tom’s point that government, on all levels, should become more efficient (and accountable). Yes, to borrow a phrase, “everything does begin on a local level”. We are watching and have been for a long time…time for mega changes.

  • Rich

    To Don,

    The “reduce class rations from 21:1 to 23:1” is referring to the number of students per teacher. The higher the first number (21 or 23), the less teachers per student, which is a reduction.

  • Mike

    I hate the meals tax, I rarely ever eat in Dumfries or Stafford because of it.

  • tb

    Oh get with it…just raise the real estate tax. Just re-evaluate all the houses…up.

    • Good grief

      tb: few questions come to mind. Are you privy to all the “frills” in this local government have been put on the backs of residential taxpayers? Better yet, how long have you resided in PWC and how long do you intend to stay? (Most are here for six years and leave their “wants” bills for others to pay for a very long time).

      • tb

        I’ve been here since 1971. Plan to be here til death. Why do you ask? I was smart in the housing bubble. — didn’t bite. House paid for. 1995 car. No HOA.

  • ash

    I moved into PWC in 2005 and I paid a good deal more in property taxes in 2006 and 2007 than I have in the past few years. Yes, the tax rate went up, but with my home’s value dropping so much from the bubble, I pay less in the end. I don’t know how it’s been for most people in the county, but for most that I have spoken too, they saw the same thing as me. The county should restore the tax revenue per home to what it was some time before the bubble burst.

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