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Brooke Point Students to Perform at Kennedy Center

082711 Brooke Point High School

STAFFORD, Va. – The Chamber Ensemble singers of Brooke Point High School in Stafford are going to perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington on March 16. Their performance will be apart of a larger show of student choirs from across the U.S., according to Brooke Point Choral Director Stephen Shelburne.

Here’s Shelburne’s letter to Stafford County Public School administrators telling them of the students’ upcoming trip and how the public can attend the concert in Washington, D.C.:

Dear Administrators,

I want to let you know that 14 of our students, my Chamber Ensemble class, will be performing at The Kennedy Center in D.C. on March 16th as part of a large choral ensemble made up of students from all over the U.S. This concert is sponsored by Manhattan Concert Productions in New York City.

Not only is the performance venue incredibly exciting for our students but so is the conductor they will be working with – Z. Randall Stroope – he is a huge name in choral music and it is an honor to be able to work and sing with him. http://www.zrstroope.com/

I know that you will be impressed by the entire concert and no doubt the students and I would appreciate your support as well. If you are able to or interested in coming you would have to purchase a ticket from The Kennedy Center’s Box Office. Attached to this e-mail is a document explaining how to receive a 25% or 15% discount on the ticket price.

Regardless of this event, I sincerely appreciate the support that each one of you provide myself and our young musicians. Not every school is fortunate enough to be supported like we are here and I do mean it when I say thank you.


School Budget Process Scolded as Prince William Officials Adopt Advertised 2015 Tax Rate

Prince William County School Board Chairman Milton Johns. [Photo: Uriah Kiser / Potomac Local News]

Prince William County School Board Chairman Milton Johns. [Photo: Uriah Kiser / Potomac Local News]

Officials took issue with how the Prince William County Public School System budgets its money.

The County’s Board of Supervisors, the taxing authority, on Tuesday set the advertised property tax rate at $1.158 per $100 of assessed value for the FY2015 budget. While the final tax rate won’t be adopted until April, tax revenues collected under the tax rate of $862.3 million will go to fund the operation of county government, and 57.23% of it automatically will go to fund schools.

The advertised tax rate would be enough to backfill some of the school division’s $8.7 million projected budget shortfall over the next five years. That’s money that would be used to pay teachers and to reduce the average teacher per student ratio in classrooms (Prince William County currently has the largest average class size in the Washington, D.C. region.)

The average residential tax bill would increase 5.4% topping out at $3,599 per household if the advertised rate is adopted by the budget deadline in April.

Starting from zero

School officials this week told the Board of Supervisors that while the have a balanced budget as required by law, many of the division’s needs – like replacing new roofs, boilers, and other general school building renovations in their capital improvement plan, teacher pay raises, and funds for telephone system replacement and wireless internet connectivity in schools – remain unfunded to the tune of $20 to $60 million.

The Board of Supervisors responded and put increased pressure on the school division to change its budget process, as it has, and develop a zero-based budget where no monies from any department are carried over from the previous year. The School Board in March is set to vote to hire an outside contractor to help it begin the process of developing such a budget, said Prince William County School Board Chairman Milton C. Johns.

Monies left over

Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland on Tuesday read aloud some of the school division’s budgeted numbers and compared them with the actual monies spent, and each category Candland chose to highlight showed carryover funds he says could have went to reduce class sizes and give raises to teachers.

Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi agreed.

“…the desire of this Board is that [the School Board] drill down and do some zero-based budgeting because the budget to actual numbers that he presented are just not acceptable,” said Principi.

The School Board is expected to make present their budget in April after they learn how much funding will come from state and local governments.


Smaller Class Sizes, Increased Teacher Pay Hinges on Tax Rate

Chairman Corey Stewart says and says money to lower class sizes and increase teacher pay has to come from somewhere.

He and the Prince William County Board of Supervisors is now wrangling over a proposed $975 million budget that doesn’t leave much room for the hiring of new police officers and fire and rescue personnel, or bringing on new employees into government that saw positions go unfilled or slashed since the start of the recession in 2008.

Because county officials are committed to capping the increase of the growth of the average tax bill at 2.5% per year between now and 2019, and because of unexpected growth and revenue in the housing market over the past year, the tax rate will have to be reduced 5.5 cents to $1.126 per every $100 of assessed residential and commercial property value to keep pace with the 2.5% tax bill growth cap.

Prince William County Public Schools are expected to lose $8.7 million in the coming budget because of the lower tax rate. Those funds, along with the remainder of school funding from the Prince William County Government, would have been automatically transferred to the School Board under a 57.23% revenue sharing agreement.

The School Board earlier this month, by a motion set forth by Potomac District School Board member Betty Covington, unanimously passed a resolution urging the Board of Supervisors to find a way to fund the $8.7 million shortfall.

Stewart is in full support of continuing the automatic revenue sharing agreement, something that is unique to Prince William and Albermale counties in Virginia.

“I talk to many other localities a lot more than any other person on the Board and I can say the rev sharing agreement is the greatest thing… you take the bickering out of the split,” said Stewart.

School officials met with the Board of County Supervisors several times during the previous year and each time stressed that lowering class sizes (Prince William currently has the largest student to teacher ratio in the Washington, D.C. area) and increasing teacher pay are top priorities.

Now, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday must vote on whether to move forward on a reduced tax rate of $1.126 to keep the promise of an average tax bill growth of 2.5%, which would increase the average tax bill about $85 per year to just under $3,500.

Stewart says he’ll be speaking to residents about how they feel about the proposed tax rate in an effort to make sure schools, as well as departments in county government are funded at critical levels.

“When I leave this place I want people to look back and say ‘the community had this challenge… and it had that challenge,’ and that they say I met them and I got the job done,” said Stewart.

The Board of County Supervisors is also scheduled to hear from School Board Chairman Milton C. Johns on Tuesday night to learn more about the School Division’s annual budget for FY2015.

Heartwarming Homecoming: Sailor Surprises 10-year-old Daughter at School


There was a surprise for a little girl in the fifth grade at Antietam Elementary School in Lake Ridge on Thursday.

Lt. Commander Brian Harper returned home from Afghanistan to greet his 10-year-old daughters Isabella and 4-year old Grace during a school assembly. With her classmates watching, Isabella and her mother Shannon, welcomed the sailor with loving arms following his tour in the foreign country.

Members of the press were tipped off about the heartwarming homecoming by the school division’s central offices.





Students Plea for School Funding to Lower Class Sizes

With the possibility of fewer local and state school funding next year, public school students made an impassionate plea to Prince William County officials Tuesday night. They said their overcrowded classrooms have led to disruptions, fighting among students, and have negatively impacted the academic process.

The students, as well as members of the Prince William Federation of Teachers, urged the Board of Supervisors to fully fund the county’s public school system during the upcoming budget season. Students also said there too much focus has been placed on Virginia’s Standards of Learning exams.

“In my classes, the focus has been put on passing a test and not succeeding overall in life. We should put more focus into learning form all sides,” said Kimberly Alfaro, 17, a junior at Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge. “I love to learn…I love to ask questions from all angles, not about just what’s on the next test.”

With only one teacher to an average classroom of 25 or more learners, keeping students well-behaved and under control can often get in the way of educational time.

“I’ve seen a lot of wandering eyes on tests, and when we have chaotic classrooms – when a large amount of adolescents are in confined spaces – it can be a danger to others and learning” said Jessica Wilson, 17, a senior at Woodbridge Senior High School.

Prior to coming to Woodbridge high, Wilson spent a year in an all girls classroom at Woodbridge Middle School where, she said, the classroom was rife with student disruptions and misbehavior.

“In a classroom of all 28 girls, you can image how that went,” she said.

Prince William officials give just over 57% of the county’s entire budget to the school division. Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Walts told school officials that an expected reduction in state and local funds in the coming year could impact efforts to reduce the average number of students in classrooms. Prince William County has the largest number of students per teacher in the Washington area.

“We urge you to fully fund our school system for the good of the county,” said Bill Hosp, with the Prince William Federation of Teachers. “Great things can happen if we put our differences aside for the moment and focus on what’s good for our students.”

Photo: Woodbridge Senior High School student Jessica Wilson addresses the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. 


No School for Stafford Tomorrow, Exams Canceled

Stafford County canceled classes for Friday as well as mid-term exams.

More in a statement from Stafford schools:

Due to the loss of instruction time during the inclement weather this week, Friday, January 24th, will now be a professional day/teacher work day, however; teachers will have the option to work from home. To allow for the parking lots and sidewalks to clear, all staff including teachers will report on a two-hour delay on Friday. All buildings and offices will open at 10 a.m.

There is no school for students on Friday, January 24th. All exams are canceled. Monday, January 27th will now be a regular school day (an X day for middle and high school students) and will be the last day of the first semester. All grades will be submitted by Friday, January 31st and report cards will be issued on February 11th.

The time lost from today’s (January 23) closure means that Stafford County Schools will be in session on Monday, February 17th, 2014 (the President’s Day holiday).

All scheduled activities for Friday, January 24, and Saturday, January 25, may continue as scheduled. This includes all high school athletic competitions, the SATs and the AP Mathematics Prep Sessions. For information regarding activities at a specific school site, please contact that school directly (or check their webpage).


School Buses Victim of Cold, Some Students Late to School Today

(Photo: Prince William County Public Schools)

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. – The recent cold weather brought by the polar vortex that engulfed our region over the last two days brought problems for Prince William schools.

This morning as children headed into the cold, with temperatures below 10 degrees in some places, and back to class after school was canceled Tuesday due to cold weather, a total of 60 county school buses failed to start. That meant children were late getting across the county, and school officials said the nature of the isolated mechanical problems and its timing made it difficult to send out alerts.

The vast majority of our bus fleet operated on time and without difficulty this morning. Approximately 60 buses (about 5% of the fleet) did not start immediately or exhibited other mechanical problems. While that is three times higher than in normal 70 degree temperatures, it is not at all unusual for periods of such extreme cold. To reduce problems, drivers and service personnel employed special preventative measures that were issued Monday and reinforced over the past few days.

– Phil Kavits, Prince William County Public Schools spokesman

A few school buildings sustained water damage after pipes burst in last night’s cold temperatures that dropped below 10 degrees. Overall, children had a normal day back at school today.

While neighboring counties like Fairfax and Stafford opted to open schools two hours late, Kavits said the lack of a wind chill factor (wind gusts factored into the cold temperature that makes it feel colder than it really is) led to the decision to open Prince William schools on time today.

Prince William Schools Closed Friday

Road conditions deteriorated fast was snow fell fast on Jan. 26, 2011, on  Garrisonville Road (Va. 610) in North Stafford. [File Photo: Mary Davidson/Potomac Local News]

Prince William County Public Schools are closed today due to last night’s snow and this  morning’s icy road conditions.

Here’s the statement from the school division:

On Friday, January 3, 2014, all Prince William County Public Schools will be closed due to inclement weather in certain areas. Code Red for employees. All school division activities including Professional Development sessions are cancelled. SACC will not open.


Updated: Stafford Schools Closed Friday



Stafford County Public Schools are closed tomorrow. Officials say Code 1 is in effect for employees.

4:55 p.m. 

STAFFORD COUNTY, Va. – Stafford County Public Schools will open two hours late on Friday.

The school division adds there will be no morning kindergarten, but afternoon kindergarten will be on time. The weather and road conditions will be reassessed by the school division at 7:15 a.m. Friday.

Stafford is the first school division in the region to delay the start of classes as a winter storm brushes our area. The storm is expected to bring about an inch of snow to our area, but could bring several inches of snow to the northeast where winter storm warnings are posted from Philadelphia to Maine.

There are currently no severe weather warnings issued in Stafford County or the immediate Washington, D.C. area.


Parents Can Learn About Financial Aid, Planning for College at County-Wide School Summit

(Photo: Prince William County Public Schools)

WOODBRIDGE, Va. – Want to know the best way for your child to get college scholarships and financial aid?

What about planning to attend a four-year college? Or, are you curious about what options await your student at Northern Virginia Community College?

All of these questions and more will be answered at the first-ever High School Parent Summit from 8 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 11.

Four hundred parents have already signed up to attend the county-wide summit hosted by the Prince William County Public School Division, which will be held at C.D. Hylton High School in Woodbridge. Parents have been asked to pre-register online by Friday and select at least two of the 14 topics that will be covered during the summit.

The event will take place in rooms throughout the school building so, just as their children do on the first day of school, parents will be given a schedule when they arrive which they’ll use to find which classroom their seminar will be held in.

Popular sessions like financial aid will he held in the high school’s auditorium.

“We see this as a way to reach out to all parents across the county. And, when you’re creating a program based on parents’ wants and needs, that’s why it was so important for us to have the pre-registration element,” said Rebekah Schlatter, Prince William schools’ supervisors of secondary education and counseling.

While this event will not replace annual college nights usually held at high school each fall, it does offer another opportunity to get college information to parents at their convenience.

If it’s successful the program could be expanded to provide different types of information to parents of middle and elementary school students, and be held at other school sites in the county.

“Let’s face it: if you are a parent sitting for an hour and a half each night on [Interstates] 95 or 66, making a college night or after-school event by 6:30 p.m. isn’t always an option,” said Schlatter.

TV production students at Hylton have also been tapped to record and provide archived, online videos of the most popular sessions so parents can view them later on the school division’s website. If you aren’t able to register by the deadline or need more information, you can email Schlatter at the school division office.

‘NOVA Next Door’ to Offer Classes at High Schools in Manassas Park, Western Prince William

MANASSAS, Va. – More community college courses will be offered in more places in western Prince William County and Manassas Park.

This coming spring semester starting in January, the Manassas Campus of Northern Virginia Community College will begin holding classes are area high schools to make it easier for students to access educational opportunities.

Here’s more in an press release from the college:

To make earning a college degree more convenient, the Manassas Campus of Northern Virginia Community College plans to offer evening classes in several locations around the region. The idea behind NOVA Next Door is simple: hold college classes close to where people live.

The program will start with eight classes at four high schools and expand as demand warrants. For the spring 2014 semester, NOVA has scheduled two classes each at Battlefield High School in Haymarket, Brentsville District High School in Nokesville, Manassas Park High School and Patriot High School in Nokesville.

The courses will cover the same material, award the same credits, and transfer as easily as classes taken at the Manassas Campus. In addition to NOVA Next Door, the Manassas Campus will continue its popular Sunrise College which offers 6:30 a.m. classes for students who have work or other obligations later in the day. During the first semester of Sunrise College, more than 200 students took advantage of the early morning classes. Registration for NOVA’s spring semester is taking place now. Apply for free and register online at www.nvcc.edu.

For personal assistance, visit the campus Student Services Center or call 703-323-3000.

Northern Virginia Community College is the largest institution of higher education in the Commonwealth of Virginia and one of America’s largest community colleges. NOVA enrolls more than 75,000 students at its six campuses in Alexandria, Annandale, Loudoun, Manassas, Springfield and Woodbridge, and through the Extended Learning Institute. 


School Board Approves Swimming Pool for Prince William’s 12th High School


PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. – School officials on Wednesday night voted to approve Prince William County’s controversial 12th high school.

The $97.9 million high school will be one of the costliest ever built in Virginia, and for the past year it has been the center of a debate on whether or not it should include a $10 million swimming and aquatics facility inside the school. The Prince William County School Board on Wednesday, during their last meeting of the year, voted to approve the school pool along with the new school construction at the future school site on Va. 234 near Hoadly Road..

“This has been probably the ugliest decision that I’ve seen during my 10 years on the Board,” said Chairman Milton C. Johns, who noted many of his constituents would not support his decision and that he may catch political flack due to the overall construction cost to be paid by taxpayers.

Betty Covington was one of five of eight School Board members who voted to approve the school pool. She was thought to be a swing vote, she said.

“What better exercise is there than swimming… it’s a life saving skill, and I can’t think of a better skill to have” said Covington.

Three School Board members, Lisa Bell, Alyson Satterwhite, and Gil Trennum, tried unsuccessfully to persuade the School Board to table the school approval until next month.

“I am not against swimming, and I am not against the pool. There is no doubt there is a lack of [swimming] lane space in this county…I don’t think it’s the job of the Prince William County Schools to provide the pools,” said Satterwhite.

It became clear Wednesday that a deal that was in the works to have the Prince William County Government pay the cost to build the school pool and have the school system maintain the pool never materialized.

“If the Board of County Supervisors wanted to build the pool at the site of the 12th high school, that is a partnership that we would have all liked to have been apart of, but they have other plans and that’s their prerogative,” she added.

The meeting hall was filled with supporters of the school pool. They wore stickers that read “pool the school,” and many of them spoke of the benefits of having an aquatic facility at the new school.

“My son has had a lot of aqua therapy, and he’s had a hard time walking, they told us he never would, and he hits the water and he flies,” said Casey Burrows, of Woodbridge.

Burrows moved to Prince William County in 2005 from Tysons Corner. She said the pool will not only help her son and daughter in public schools, but the school pool will make Prince William a better overall community in which to live.

No one at the meeting spoke out against the decision to include a school pool, but Coles District School Board member Dr. Michael Otaigbe said he was prepared to have “his name dragged through the mud” on social media for his decision to approve the pool.

Re-interring the graves at the new high school

In November, school officials exhumed several graves found on the school site, which were located on land where the school’s football stadium will sit. That sparked outrage among community residents, and from the Lynn family whose ancestors are believed to be buried there.

Members of the Lynn family, who can trace back their roots in the area of the new high school site to the turn of the 20th century, say the remains should be reburied on the same tract of land on which the high school will sit.

This evening, following a public meeting on Monday, Chairman Johns said his Board supports a plan to reinter the remains at the school site, in a new location other than where they were found. It should take six to eight months to get the proper permits for the work, he added.

According to school division documents, re-internment site would be relocated from the football stadium grounds to an area on school grounds closer to main school building.

The school is slated to hold 2,200 students and is scheduled to open by 2016.

Live Blog: 12th High School, School Pool Approved


 8:51 p.m. 12th high school approved 

The Prince William County School Board has awarded a $97.9 million contract to build the county’s 12th high school on Va. 234. The new building will include a $10 million swimming and aquatics facility.

8:50 p.m. ‘Are you lying to me, Dr. Walts?’

Chairman Milton Johns will vote for a school pool. But he said he will not vote for any more pools in any Prince William County Public School.

He then turned to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Walts and asked him if any more school pools were planned.

“Dr. Walts, are there any more school pools planned?” asked Johns.

“There are no more school pools planned,” replied Walts.

“Are you lying to me?” quipped Johns.

“No I’m not,” said Walts.

Johns said more pools are needed in Prince William County, but he added the county government should foot the bill and build them.

He admitted that many who know him will be disappointed in his decision to support a school pool. He said he hopes the new pool operates 24 hours a day, seven day a week.

“If we could open our buildings 24/7, I would support that as well,” said Johns.

He also called the pool the “ugliest issue” he has seen while serving on the School Board.


8:35 p.m. Swing vote Covington supports school pool

Potomac District School Board member Betty Covington said she has been described as the swing vote on the school pool discussion.

Covington said the pool would be used by all students in Prince William County Public Schools, and the 12th high school would be a specialty high school where swimming classes could be taught.

“What better exercise is there than swimming.. it’s a life saving skill, and I can’t think of a better skill to have” said Covington.

She added money to pay for the pool by for users on evenings and weekends. She also said Prince William County is one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S. and ought to be able to afford a swimming pool inside a school.

8:26 p.m. Tabling the school motion fails

A motion to table discussion of the 12th high school until next month fails 5-3.

8:25 p.m. Johns: Up or down?

Chairman Milton Johns said delaying the school vote would only increase the construction cost of the new school, set back instruction time by prolonging its opening date, and put uncertainty in contracting community and those who were relying on a decision tonight. He urged the Board to vote up or down.

8:20 p.m. Occoquan School Board member Lilly Jessie likes the swimming pool idea

Lilly Jessie supports the school pool as much as she does other athletics and academics.

“I grew up watching other white kids swim, I looked at the pool as an elite item, but as principal I said every kid can learn, and I never separated PE from instruction

When it comes to a motion to table building a school pool, she also offered this: “Maybe we should table discussion of having a football field, too.”


8:15 p.m. Satterwhite speaks

Gainesville School Board member Alyson Satterwhite says she’s not against swimming, but says it’s not the school division’s role to provide a swimming facility to the county.

“The operating deficit for this pool will come from operating budget, and that’s where we get money for classrooms and school teacher salaries,” said Satterwhite.

After several joint meetings with the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and School Board, Satterwhite said a plan for the County Supervisors to build a pool at the school and for the school to maintain it never materialized.

“If the Board of County Supervisors wanted to build the pool at the site of the 12th high school, that is a partnership that we would have all liked to have been apart of, but they have other plans and that’s their prerogative,” she said.

8 p.m. School Board debates approval of school

A motion to approve the new school with the pool was put forward by Coles District School Board member Dr. Michael and seconded by Woodbridge member Loree Williams.

School Board members Gill Trenum of Brentsville, and Alyson Satterwhite of Gainesville, said they don’t want to approve the school pool until after a School Board work session in January.

“The school has become more about the pool, it has become a symbol to a lot of people… it’s about the process. I’m not happy about how its gone.. the first time I heard about the pool was from one of the [Prince William Board of County Supervisors] and I thought it was a joke,” said Trenum. “I Heard from the rumor mill, and rumor mill was right. I feel like the Prince William County Board of Supervisors had more insight to the processes than we did.”


7:55 p.m.

Several residents came to the meeting tonight in support of the school pool. They wore stickers that stated “pool the school.”

Students and parents voiced their support, telling school officials several public pools already in operation throughout the county are filled. They added students would benefit from learning how to swim and other life saving skills that could be taught at the aquatics facility to be included inside the school.

“When you come to a high school swim meet, you will see the one who sees an ovation is not the winner… it’s the kid who jumps in to compete in the 500 meter freestyle and comes in dead last… because his teammates know he dared to jump in and compete and test his limits,” said one parent.

7:45 p.m.

The Prince William County School Board is scheduled tonight to take a vote on the soon-to-be-built 12th high school.

The road to tonight’s decision has been rife with debate on whether to include a $10 million swimming pool and aquatics facility at the school, that is to be located near at Va. 234 and Independence Drive, near Hoadly Road.

The discovery of graves at the site and their exhumation in November to make way for the new school tore apart the Prince William community. Many said the school division should have did more to research who the graves belong to – now believed to be the Lynn family of Prince William County whos ancestors date back to the turn of the 20th century – and tell the public about their findings. Others said building a new school that will house 2,200 students in a growing community is what is needed now.

Board supports reburial of graves at school site

This evening, following a public meeting on Monday, School Board Chairman Milton C. Johns said his Board supports a plan to reinter the remains at the school site, in a new location other than where they were found. It should take six to eight months to get the proper permits for the work, he added.


Schools Seek Input on Returning Artifacts Found at 12th High School’s Grave Site

(Photo: Prince William County Public Schools)

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. – School officials in Prince William County want to hear from the public on what do to do with artifacts found at the site of the soon-to-be-built 12th high school.

A series of graves were found at the school site near Va. 234 and Hoadly Road over the summer. Last month, those graves were dug up to make room for a football stadium for the new school site. The owners of the graves were identified as belonging to the Lynn family who used to live in the area in the late 1800s.  

Now school officials will hold a public meeting to get feedback on the re-interment process of the small artifacts found.

More in a press release:

The Prince William County School Board will meet to hear public comments on plans for re-interring artifacts and remains from graves discovered during clearing for the county’s 12th high school, now set for completion in 2016. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m., December 16, 2013, at the Board Meeting Room of the Edward Kelly Leadership Center, 14715 Bristow Road in Manassas.

Archaeologists and others have completed study of the fragmentary remains from graves previously hidden beneath trees and brush that had grown for decades. Insights and historical information will be presented so local residents can weigh in on appropriate ways to recognize and reinter the historic discoveries.

Those wishing to address the School Board may:

• Notify the Board Clerk in writing at P.O. Box 389, Manassas, VA 20108; by phone at 703.791.8709; or by email at pwcsclerk@pwcs.edu prior to noon on the day of the Board meeting to be placed on the list of speakers; or

• Sign onto the list of speakers maintained at the entrance to the School Board meeting room at the beginning of the meeting, but prior to 6:55 p.m. on the evening of the meeting.

Please provide your name, address, phone number. In keeping with Board policy, all registered speakers will receive three minutes to present their views, which will be considered in subsequent Board deliberations.

Exhumation and relocation of the graves was necessitated by timing and budget for school construction, combined with the unique site attributes that restrict the flexibility of the project.

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.

Why a Longer Winter Break is a Nonstarter in Prince William Schools

(Photo: Prince William County Public Schools)

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. – Prince William County school officials mulled over an idea of extending winter break this year. They say the idea won’t work.

Here’s more in a press release:

PrinceWilliamCounty school officials mulled over an idea of extending winter break this year. They say the idea won’t work.

Here’s more in a press release:

The pilot elimination of the designated “semester exam” days for high school students, has led some to inquire about the possibility of cutting two days out of the 2013-14 school calendar (adding to the winter break) to “make up” the half-days previously scheduled in connection with the testing.

With regrets to those seeking extra days off, the idea will not work. The primary reason is that the elimination of the half-days for exams in no way changed the carefully-crafted school calendar—the half days for exams were already counted as required school days. PWCS must retain the calendar, as originally designed and announced in 2012, to meet necessary objectives. The 2014-15 calendar may provide for a longer winter break.

Calendar Facts:  

The annual school calendar is developed and announced well in advance to allow students, families and teachers to plan their schedules accordingly.

The calendar is developed to meet the strict requirement of the Virginia Code concerning the required number of days, and the requirement that schools must start after Labor Day; it provides for 182 instructional days for elementary students and 183 instructional days for middle and high school students.

Additional days are built in to allow for weather-related closings, and they may be needed at any time within the school year. Beyond these weather reserve days, there is little room for flexibility.

All decisions about student holidays and teacher workdays require tradeoffs to fit within the parameters. Consequently discussions about Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day, the length of Winter and Spring Breaks, etc. are made in consultation with a representative Calendar Committee of  parents, teachers, principals, and  employee association representatives.

Once approved by the Calendar Committee, the calendar is presented to and approved by the Superintendent’s Staff and then by the School Board. This process was completed for the 2013-14 calendar in December, 2012.

The PWCS calendar provides for the same number of school days as do those of neighboring jurisdictions. For example, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) do have a longer winter break, but FCPS has students in school until June 20, 2014; Prince William County students finish on June 17.

Extending next school year’s winter break by up to two weeks, by including a calendar proposal that has the two week vacation time built already built into it,  is an idea that will be presented at an upcoming School Board meeting on Dec. 4.

Students must be in school a total of 180 days to fulfill the state requirement of a full school year.

Candland Proposes Increasing School Funding Transfer Again in Effort to Reduce Class Size, Raise Teacher Salaries

Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland talks school funding at a recent town hall event in Haymarket. [Leigh Giza / For Potomac Local News]

HAYMARKET, Va. – A local leader says he wants more money for Prince William County’s public schools.

Gainesville District Supervisor Peter Candland held a town hall Thursday night at Alvey Elementary School in Haymarket to speak to area residents about what he said is the need to “act right away” to provide more funds to the county school board to cut class sizes, which are now at their maximum capacity, he said. The number of students in classrooms is larger than those of schools in neighboring Loudoun and Fairfax counties, according to a Washington Area Board of Education report.

Candland advocates raising the amount of money the School Board automatically gets from the county in an annual budget transfer, which is currently 57.23% of the county budget, to allow the Board to hire additional teachers and to pay them salaries comparable to what educators earn in surrounding counties.

Elected leaders will begin working on the FY 2015 county budget early next year. During the last year’s budget process, the automatic transfer from the county government to the schools was increased about 1% in FY 2014. At the same time, the county schools’ budget rose 2.8% over the previous year to nearly $1 billion.

The average salary for a teacher in Prince William County is $58,893, while teachers in Manassas make an average of $60,893, an average of $64,813 in Fairfax County. Regionally, teachers in Montgomery County, Md. top the average teacher salary list with $74,855 per year, according to a WABE report.

Candland said that class sizes in Prince William County are now the highest of all the public schools in Virginia. He added studies show that large classes with more than 30 students per teacher can create a number of problems, including teacher attrition, lower SAT scores, and more classroom time being used for disciplining students.

Candland said the blame for overcrowded classrooms must be shared by the Board of County Supervisors and the School Board, noting the Board of Supervisors is guilty of not requiring developers to pay higher proffers to cover the increase in demand for county services, including schools, that occur when new developments are built. And, he faulted the county’s School Board for not wisely prioritizing spending of the money in its budget, citing the proposed swimming pool at the soon-to-be-built 12th high school as an example of allocating money for something “nice” instead of “what is needed.”

Following Candland’s presentation, Melba Williams, a county school parent, read aloud a letter written by Prince William Gainesville District School Board representative Alyson Satterwhite, who was unable to attend the town hall.

“His push during our last budget cycle to increase the cost share agreement between Prince William County and the Prince William County Schools was a direct benefit to our students. It is through his efforts that we did not face further direct cuts to our individual schools in our current budget over the already imposed .5% cuts to each school,” Satterwhite wrote in her letter.

Satterwhite also stated that she opposes the use of school board money for construction of a pool at the 12th high school, saying that the money should come instead from either the county budget or private enterprise.

One parent in the audience, Esther Carmichael, told Candland she is considering taking her children out of the county schools they attend because she is concerned they will not receive a high-quality education due to the large class sizes.

About 50 people attended the town hall meeting.

Input from Concerned Parents, Residents Sought on New School Boundaries


PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. – School officials tonight want to hear from residents whose children will attend the new Nokesville kindergarten through 8th grade school in Nokesville when it opens in September 2014.

Currently, students who live in the area of where the school is being built – on the Aden Road – would go to nearby Brentsville District High School.

A boundary committee for the K-8 school will meet at 7 p.m. inside the Brentsville District High School auditorium to discuss the proposed changes and solicit feedback from residents.

Boundary changes for another school, the Haymarket Drive elementary school, will be discussed Tuesday at 7 p.m. inside the gym of Buckland Mills Elementary School, and again at 7 p.m. at the cafeteria/gym inside Gravely Elementary School.

Students who live near the where the Haymarket Drive elementary school will be built now attend Buckland Mills Elementary School.


Family Member: Build School Around Grave Sites

About 11 grave sites were found at the site of the soon-to-be-built 12th high school in Prince William County. [Photo: Prince William County Public Schools]

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — Carolyn G. Lynn has spent countless hours researching the lives of past residents of Prince William County.

She publishes a blog, Prince William County Genealogy, and comes from a long line of Lynns – her family whose members that have called Prince William home since the at least the early 1800s.

So imagine the Manassas-area resident’s surprise when, this past weekend, she learned at least 11 graves at the site of Prince William County’s soon-to-be-built 12th high school, near the corner of Va. 234 and Hoadly Road, contained her ancestors.

She was given the news by Ruth E. Lloyd Information Center (RELIC) Director Don Wilson who, after working directly contracted archeologist when graves were found on the school site this summer, was pressured by local residents to determine the origins of the graves.

After issuing a public notice in the Washington Post, and eager to continue the process of building a new high school for a rapidly growing county, the Prince William school division last week began the process of exhuming the graves with plans to bury any found remains at registered cemetery.

So far, no human remains have been found and the school division says they don’t expect to find any.

“I was upset when I learned that the graves were there and they were going to move them, and that was before I even knew they were my family,” said Lynn. “Now that I know the graves belong to my family, it’s even more upsetting.”

Lynn’s grandfather, John Henry Lynn, who served in the 4th Virginia Calvary during the Civil War, is suspected of being buried there, she said. And, because her family owned so much property in and around the Independent Hill area — where the new school will sit — during the time of the Civil War in the 1860s to the early 1900s, she suspects other family members may be buried there, too.

When the school is built a new stadium will sit on the site where the graves are located.

Officials said a 2008 pre-construction survey of the property missed the graves because they were located in such a heavily vegetated area of the property.

Already in the news, the school could also be the site of a hotly debated $10.5 million swimming and aquatics facility that would be paid for and maintained by the public.

If human remains are found they will be surveyed and treated with the “utmost respect,” and then reburied in a chartered local cemetery, according to a statement from the school division.

“We will continue to work with the community to assure that the reinterment is properly handled and any historic information is shared. And, should a family connection be confirmed by the archeology study, we would look forward to working with that family regarding the reinterment. As far as we know, there is no specific reference to a cemetery in the deeds for this property,” stated Prince William County Public Schools spokeswoman Irene Cromer.

Lynn, area residents, and a growing number of public officials say more could have been done to treat the grave sites with respect.

“I’m really shocked the school system has not tried to build around them,” said Lynn.

While other high schools in the county, like C.D. Hylton and Potomac high schools, have been built around grave sites, school officials maintain plans for this high school are already well into the works. Officials stated on Monday, however, “there may yet be some opportunity for further input on the reinterment.”

Lynn said she has not spoken to anyone at the school division, and that she welcomes the opportunity to address the county school board on the matter.

Updated: Grave Sites Identified, More Public Comment Sought

(Photo: Prince William County Public Schools)

Updated 11:15 a.m. 

Prince William County officials have chimed in about the grave site situation at the site of the county’s soon-to-be-built 12th high school.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart and Coles District Supervisor Marty Nohe, where the new school will be located, plan to propose a new policy that would raise awareness of graves found on land where public facilities will be built.

More in a press release:

We both know that our community cherishes our rich history and that respect for cemeteries is one of our community values. Indeed, Supervisor Nohe and I both own properties on which grave sites are located, and as such, are particularly sensitive to the importance of being a good steward of historic burial sites,” said Chairman Corey Stewart.

We both strongly believe that gravesites should be preserved and protected whenever possible and that they should only be relocated when all other alternatives have been exhausted and it is determined that there are no other viable options. After lengthy conversations with staff from both the County’s Planning office and from the school system, we believe that school officials did exhaust all other options in their determination that the move of the grave sites was in fact necessary.

Updated 11 a.m.

About 13 graves at the site of Prince William County’s 12th high school site are believed to belong to descendants of the Lynn family who owned the property between the Civil War and the early 1900s.

Work completed by volunteers at the RELIC Center at Bull Run Regional Library uncovered this information this past weekend. A volunteer with RELIC used GPS mapping software to research early property deeds in the area.

Family member Carolyn Lynn incidentally publishes a blog about genealogy in Prince William County and has been in touch with the RELIC Center following the discovery, said center Director Don Wilson.

There are many Lynns that still live in the area, said Wilson. Potomac Local News is attempting to contact members of the Lynn family for comment.

The discovery was made after pressure from the public was placed onto the RELIC Center to identify the owner of the grave sites.

“It’s a very detailed process to learn the owner of the graves,” said Wilson. “When you go back and look at the deeds, the property lines changed all the time, whenever someone sold a piece of property, so you have to pay close attention or else the work can get very confusing.”

Wilson, since the graves were uncovered this summer, has worked with a private archaeology firm hired by the school division, but the discovery of the graves’ owners was completed by the RELIC Center, he notes.

Prince William County schools spokeswoman Irene Cromer says she is not aware of any contact between the Lynn family and the school division concerning the grave sites.

10 a.m. 

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. – We may soon know who is buried at the site of Prince William County’s soon-to-be-built 12th high school.

Prince William County Historical Commission member and Cemetery Committee Chairman Bill Olson said he’s been in contact with members of a family whose descendants believe have family buried at the site near the intersection of Va. 234 and Hoadly Road . Olson on Monday morning declined to reveal the family’s name, but said that information could soon be forthcoming.

The county school system last week began the process of exhuming 13 possible graves sites found this summer at the high school site. The new school could also become home to a hotly debated, taxpayer funded, $10.5 million aquatics and swim facility.

David Cline, Associate Superintendent for Prince William County Public Schools, issued a statement on Friday noting the school division is taking the necessary steps to carefully excavate any remains that might be found in the graves, survey them, and return them to the ground in another location “in the most respectful and appropriate manner.”

The school division said they were not aware of the remains until this summer. A survey of the site was conducted in 2008, however, heavy vegetation at the site of the graves prevented it from being examined fully by the firm contracted to do the work, Wetland Studies and Solutions Inc. (WSSI), stated Cline.

Survey crews cutting transects along the property of the high school site discovered the graves in July, added Cline.

“Although research conducted in 2008 and 2013 identified the names of a number of property owners, no mention of a cemetery was ever found. The grave markers consisted of natural stones and boulders and did not contain names or dates,” he stated.

Olson met with school and county officials in August to discuss the newly located grave sites, and that’s when he learned the graves were located on what is to become the site of the school’s football stadium.

“This was not a sit-down meeting, this was a stand-up meeting. In fact, I didn’t even get the calling cards of the participants,” said Olson. “It was very clearly understood at that time there would have to be a public notice of opportunity for a hearing or a meeting published, and also there would have to be a permit issued by the Virginia State Department of Historic Resources,” said Olson.

The school division paid for the publication of a public notice about the planned graves exhumation and relocation inside the pages of the Washington Post newspaper on Sept. 9, due to its “wide circulation in the local area,” stated Cline.

While no human remains have been found at the site so far, wood from coffins as well as nails have been located, said Olson, and he says a public hearing should have been held before the exhumation process began.

Wood has also urged the school division to leave the graves untouched and build around them as they have on other school sites in Prince William County, including C.D. Hylton and Potomac high schools.

Cline says the school division is moving as fast as it can to deliver a much-needed new high school by 2016.

The situation has also garnered the attention of locally elected officials, Delegates Richard Anderson and Scott Lingamfelter, who stated in a letter to School Board Chairman Milton C. Johns more public comment should have been received prior to the exhumation process.

“Although the letter of the law may have been followed, we believe that this circumstance warrants further examination so that we may proceed prudently with the Board’s construction plans [for the new high school], the letter stated.

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