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Discussion on Funding Class Size Reduction Turns Ugly

By Uriah Kiser December 12, 2013 10:34 am

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WOODBRIDGE, Va. – Leaders are searching for a way to fund a proposed $3.5 million plan to reduce class size in Prince William County – a jurisdiction with the largest average class sizes in the Washington area.

Prince William Gainesville Supervisor Peter Candland suggests using funds from the county’s recordation tax – fees charged on the transfer of deeds for property.

Of the $9.8 million the county collects in recordation taxes each year, Candland proposed giving the county’s School Division $5.6 million of it to lower class sizes. The money would go to a fund a plan put forth last month by school officials that would add teachers at the kindergarten, 6th, and 9th grade levels, and reduce the average number of students in each class by one in the 6th and kindergarten grade levels.

But funds from the recordation tax are already being used to pay for roads county officials chose to construct with county tax dollars, like Prince William Parkway.

“Virtually all of that recordation tax is paying the debt service on existing road bonds that have been issued for road projects that have been completed or are already in progress,” said Prince William Deputy County Executive Christopher Martino, who noted the county’s debts are always paid first before new expenses are incurred. “…you’ll need to identify other programs and services you willing to cut to save the same amount of money that could go to pay for what has been suggested here, or you’ll need to raise revenues.”

Giving these funds from the recordation tax, in addition to the annual funds the county already provides the schools, would restore the level of funding taken away from the schools by the Board of Supervisors during a tax deal in 2004. That deal cost county schools $50.1 million – funds that could have went to reducing class size, said Candland.

Of the $9.8 million Prince William collects in recordation taxes each year, $5.6 would go to schools, $2.5 million would go to fund public safety needs, and officials would keep a $1.7 million balance.

An additional $7 million is expected in Prince William County from the state’s transportation fund, but those funds cannot be used to fund needs outside traffic and transit projects.

The Board of Tuesday voted to direct the budget office to craft a budget for fiscal 2015 based off of a 2.5% tax increased as outlined in the adopted five-year-plan. Debate on that budget is expected to begin after the first of the year.

But Supervisors Frank Principi and John Jenkins urged a failed attempt at a proposed 3% tax increase in next year’s budget to fund critical unmet needs.

Tuesday’s discussion also had some ugly moments. Stewart said a 2.5% increase would not be enough to fund Candland’s class-size reduction plan.

“I know you’re frothing at the mouth for a tax increase here…” Candland said to Stewart.

“You’re acting like a charlatan, its snake oil,” Stewart said.

“With all due respect, Mr. Chairman, you’ve been offering this snake oil for the last six years,” Candland responded.