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PWCPS: Spend, Spend, Spend!

By Greg L | 22 January 2009 | Prince William County | 14 Comments

Anyone interested in seeing fiscal responsibility exercised in Prince William County should be rather interested in the behavior of the Prince William County School Board, seeing that the current funding formula awards more taxpayer dollars to the school system than all other government functions combined.  In a tough budget cycle a school system lacking in any sense of fiscal discipline could easily sabotage efforts to control spending in the government as a whole, making it extraordinarily difficult to effectively allocate limited resources to where they are needed the most.  At a time when the school system and the Board of County Supervisors need to be working together the most, it would appear that rather than exercise some much needed discipline, the school system would rather spend themselves and the county into ruin.

Two items on last evening’s agenda are of particular interest here.  One is a presentation of statistical information comparing Prince William County Schools to jurisdictions such as Montgomery County, Maryland and the troubled Prince George’s County Maryland school systems, but not neighboring jurisdictions such as Fauquier and Stafford counties.  One measure that elicited substantial interest was per-pupil spending, as if that is somehow a measure of success.  Yes, we spend less per pupil than many other jurisdictions (including those two Maryland counties).  No, that doesn’t mean that we are necessarily harming students, since it’s pretty obvious by now that there’s no correlation between student success and how much money taxpayers shovel into the school system.  Nice propaganda to bolster the cause of those who can’t ever spend enough, but meaningless nonetheless.

The other item which dovetails nicely into this discussion was a report by the finance folks about an $18 million carryover that will go into next year’s budget unless the board figures out how to fritter that money away.  The presentation made suggested that in order to preserve next year’s budget we need to spend that money right now on capital improvement projects.  Granted, the projects listed are absolutely needed and wouldn’t at all qualify as wasteful spending, but addressing a potential deficit by spending more money now is the epitome of fiscal irresponsibility.  When I know times are going to be tight, I don’t empty my bank account.  That’s the solution that the school staff suggests, however.  Shockingly, that idea seemed to be received rather warmly by a substantial number of our elected leadership.

Funds are going to be limited next year.  We’re all aware of that.  Every dollar spent on capital improvement projects this budget cycle is a dollar that can’t support teacher salaries next budget cycle, because there’s zero likelihood there will be money for both.  Instead of making the tough decisions, setting priorities and sticking to them, the schools seem to be intent on playing a game of chicken with the taxpayers, avoiding any difficult decisions about spending, and counting on county taxpayers to open their wallets to support additional spending at the same time taxpayers are having their own financial difficulties.  Instead of making the hard choice, the concept seems to be to spend money on capital improvement projects and then cry to taxpayer that they don’t have enough money to pay for teachers next budget cycle.

If there was any doubt about whether the “us versus them” attitude seen last night is a problem, it was entirely dispelled during the discussion by the school board members.   Concerns were expressed that if the school didn’t spend this $18 million, the Board of County Supervisors might believe the schools get too much money and cut their budget.  It’s the federal end-of-year mad spending rush that frustrates so many of us, where any spending controls are thrown away in order to protect the ability of bureaucrats to pad their budgets and grow their empires.  I’m not taking that from local government, because there’s actually a chance to strangle that horrible idea at the local level before it becomes thoroughly ingrainedin our public employees.

While this kind of fiscal irresponsibility game is pretty familiar within bureaucracies, but to see it come from supposed “leaders” is disheartening.  Would the school board be happy if we gutted police or fire and rescue staffing in order to make sure we could still fund the Multi-Cultural Department at the schools?  Should we dispense with having code enforcement personnel so we can drop $2,500 “smart boards” complete with video conferencing capabilites into every classroom?  The underlying context of the school system being in competition with the Board of Supervisors, which would extend to county taxpayers, is a result not of leadership and responsibility, but “leaders” co-oped by bureaucrats determined to protect their feifdoms.  These “leaders” are now deaf to the concerns of the constituents who elected them.  God help us.

After observing this, I can’t have any confidence that our school board as a whole (although there are some notable exceptions to these problems, such as Chairman Milt Johns) and the staff can be trusted to present truthful and fiscally responsible spending proposals to the county.  The next budget the schools offers should rightly be viewed as a deception worthy of the highest possible scrutiny where the school staff presents an elaborate fiction to county taxpayers, deferring any difficult decisions to the Board of County Supervisors.  The school board has an opportunity to correct this problem and start acting as a whole as leaders who are committed to delivering the best education for our students with the resources that county taxpayers entrust them with, but as long as we have a few board members acting as they are that isn’t going to happen.  Leadership?  Forget that.  Let’s punt.

The next time Don Richardson starts yelling “grow up” to parents who attend board meetings, someone ought to hand him a mirror.  The magic money fairy isn’t going to come and bail out the schools from the irresponsible fiscal decisions they seem to be considering.  That burden will fall to county taxpayers who are hurting themselves and demanding their government exercise the same fiscal discipline that they are being forced to demonstrate.  Ignoring the concerns of taxpayers and preparing to engage in games of fiscal “chicken” with the Board of County Supervisors over resource allocations aren’t the hallmarks of “leaders”, they’re traits of incompetence.

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  1. Old Soldier said on 22 Jan 2009 at 4:41 pm:
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    As you stated, school board members are elected officials… Every four years. I believe the next election is next year.

    You have the infrastructure to change things in place… why not change the school board? Help Save PWC Schools?

    The “saber rattling” alone would get their attention (considering your last success).

    If no one cares but you, there’s a message there (and that’s Democracy).

  2. PWC_Gal said on 22 Jan 2009 at 5:29 pm:
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    How is the school budget funded? I know by real estate tax assessments, but do they have to go through the BOCS or do they have a separate funding stream?

    I agree with you — funding is in no way linked to quality or results. If it were, then every pupil in DC would be a Rhodes scholar. Money isn’t the answer.

    The answer is to look to those school districts in and out of the US who are kicking our butts and are achieving results. What are they doing, and what do we need to emulate?

    With respect to MI and the circling of wagons by the teachers/staff…..hmmm….when something like that becomes such a sacred cow, my next question is…follow the money…who benefited, who got the pay-off for the purchase of MI? Somebody had to get a little somethin’ somethin’ out of it, or it would be such a hotbutton emotional issue.

  3. Turn PW Blue said on 22 Jan 2009 at 5:57 pm:
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    Prince William County Schools are funded from the County’s General Fund as appropriated by the Board of Supervisors, by the state as appropriated by the legislature and Department of Education under the Governor’s budget, and by the Federal government through grants.

    For the last decade or so, there has been a standing agreement between the BOCS and School Board that the schools would receive 56.75% of the overall county budget.

  4. Loudoun Insider said on 22 Jan 2009 at 7:30 pm:
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    Glad to see you delving into this in PWC, Greg! I’ve been bashing the Loudoun School Board for some time now. The educrats are really out of control these days. More, more more is always the call, always for “the children”. Times are tough and they need to cut back like everyone else.

  5. CONVA said on 22 Jan 2009 at 9:28 pm:
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    One would think the “NEW MATH” the imbeciles on the school board approved would be a vehicle they could use to figure out how much money they need, or isn’t it of any value?

  6. Turn PW Blue said on 23 Jan 2009 at 7:02 am:
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    Old Soldier–

    The current PWC School Board was elected in 2007 and won’t be up for re-election until 2011.

  7. Old Soldier said on 23 Jan 2009 at 7:06 am:
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    Thanks, TPWB. The “half full” perspective is that the County has more time to find new candidates and campaign against the incumbants. Such high profile activities might just change their attitudes a bit (to remind them that “victory is fleeting”.

  8. FOIA said on 26 Jan 2009 at 10:10 am:
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    This is a Board that has been out of control for some time. The majority of the current Board members voted unanimosly to employ Steve Walts without proper vetting that would have discovered that he: 1) he discriminated against teachers over the age of 55 in his former district, Greece, NY, even a very conservative Federal EEOC agency upheld the finding and the district had to pay a huge sum as well as reinstate folks discriminated against; 2) he maipulated funds in a school construction scandal in Greece, although not indicted he clearly violated policy/law. When this character arrived in PWC he promptly initated the “Math Investigations” program that the Greece school system purchased while he was Supt. (something stinks here), then he decided to build a $36 million school administration building that has at least 50,000 sq ft of wasted space, go there take a look, you will throw up when you see how your tax dollars were wasted. Now in a budget crisis in the county Walts and the lackeys who call themselves school board members are spending like crazy. There is perhaps only one or two members on the Board with any sense at all, the worst are Lattin and Lucas who do exactly what Walts tells them to do, neither has an ounce of common sense.

  9. Julie Lucas said on 26 Jan 2009 at 3:29 pm:
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    Directly to “FOIA”. I clicked on your link, but was not directed to your web site. I would be happy to talk to you about any item (anything that was not talked about in closed session). You are wrong about Dr. Walts bringing MI here or asking to build the Admin. building, both were initiated under our previous Superintendent. You also seem to forget that I voted “No” to the Admin. building. You are misinformed about the Greece audit. I have seen documents that prove otherwise. About the EEOC complaints many were withdrawn and sometimes cases are settled. I believe it was just one case that ended up being settled, but Dr. Walts was not a part of that. So, Mr. “FOIA” or should I said Ms. “FOIA”, please feel free to contact me if you are unhappy about some of my votes, but anyone who watches me on the board knows I do what I feel is right, not what staff tells me to.

  10. FOIA said on 28 Jan 2009 at 10:16 am:
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    Julie Lucas, you can twist this mess created by you, the board and walts anyway you want: but Walts was responsible for the EEOC mess in Greece, he did manipulate school constuction funding; he pushed forward with MI, when he didn’t need to, BTW what did MI cost us? As you are aware, when someone contacts a board member, the borad member tells walts who then determines where your child goes to school then you get a threatening call from the principal to come in to the school and discuss your “problem”

  11. Julie Lucas said on 28 Jan 2009 at 1:59 pm:
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    FOIA, No principal should be “threatening” any parent. If anyone out there has received this type of call I would hope they would contact their board member immediately. Dr. Walts would not stand for that. I have been on the board before Dr. Walts and was unhappy with the lack of customer service in certain areas. We (as a board) asked Dr. Walts to correct that. I do not and will not support any kind of retaliation, but we need to be made aware of it. Any time someone emails the school division we have the ability to “look up” what school the parent is talking about, but I have always asked upfront because I wanted to help determine if upset parents were at more than 4 schools (which is what we were told). The result was, yes, 26 schools have parents upset about MI. Principals want to help parents, but if parents feel threatened in any way the only way we (the board) can resolve it is to know what is going on. I have a great working relationship will all of the principals in my district (Neabsco). I also have a lot of respect for them. I would have no problem talking to them directly about anything. Please encourage any parent you know who is upset to contact us.

  12. FOIA said on 1 Feb 2009 at 11:55 am:
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    Julie Lucas, you are so out of touch with what goes on in the PWC schools. When anyone contacts the board thru the Walts’ office the first thing that happens is a call to the school principal of the student, the next thing that happens is the principal calls the parent who called Walts’ office and is TOLD to come to the school for a conference. This is Walts’ policy, he is the one that implemented it and will NOT speak to a parent until the parent meets with the school principal. This policy is used to intimidate parents and students in to keeping quiet and not rocking the sinking boat known as the PWC Schools. It’s doesn’t surprise me to learn that you have no clue about what goes on in the schools. Walts rules by intimidation, this policy is only one example.

  13. Person of Interest said on 28 Apr 2009 at 9:11 am:
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    Unfortunately, Ms. Lucas is more than out of touch. She is in denial. Not only does the Pricipal call the parents home, and work number, as they did with me, his lawyer sends out a threatening GAG LETTER that essentially says, “we are a big fat law firm with a wealthly client and will bury you in paper work if you continue to talk about our client.”

  14. Person of Interest said on 28 Apr 2009 at 9:12 am:
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    Oh, lucas, if there is nothing to hide, why don’t you come clean on the firing of the Freedom Principal?

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