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PWC Schools Want Taxing Authority

By Greg L | 16 February 2012 | Prince William County | 20 Comments

Amidst the usual drama we get every year about how the Prince William County Schools are supposedly severely underfunded, Board Chairman Milt Johns wants to explore giving the School Board taxing authority.  That’s not because this Republican thinks your taxes are too high, no, the whole idea here is to make them higher, even though the schools are already receiving a whopping 57% of your local tax dollars.  The school system’s insatiable hunger for your wealth continues unabated, even as the school system won’t even examine why it’s appetite is so out of control.

The schools need more of your money because apparently we don’t have enough electronic billboards being erected in front of schools like the one that appeared recently in front of Stonewall Middle School.  One school got one of these for some crazy reason, creating a “sign gap” between the haves and have-nots, so the school system is as rapidly as possible erecting mini-jumbotrons in front of schools across the county to display electronic government propaganda to passing motorists.  We can somehow afford electronic billboards, but we can’t give teachers a raise when no one in the private workforce seems to be getting raises, either.  But public employees are special, somehow.

We can however afford to pay the Superintendent more than any other county employee, maintain a communications staff that produces video that no one watches, blow millions of dollars on a morale-crushing software program called iStations that students utterly despise yet is used to evaluate teacher performance, and subsidize lunch for education bureaucrats at the Taj Mahal.  Yeah, we heard that Taj Mahal food services are supposedly self-supporting, but don’t believe that for a minute.  Amidst all of this wasteful and ineffective spending, we supposed to believe that core responsibilities such as teacher compensation cannot be met.

Yeah, let’s give these folks the authority to set a tax rate.  Bigger jumbotrons for everyone.

If the staff at Prince William County Schools, and the School Board which for the most part is lead around by the nose by this staff, actually cared about having funding that would be adequate to the burdens they should bear, they’d be looking somewhere else in order to find a solution to their fiscal challenges.  It’s not that taxes are too low.  It’s not that revenues aren’t sufficient.  It’s actually not about the degree of wasteful spending we see.  It’s something quite simple, but requires a little intestinal fortitude and dedication to principle even when that’s not entirely comfortable.  Here’s the simple formula that would ensure adequate resources for our schools:

If you want to raise a teacher’s salary tomorrow, deport an illegal alien today.

It’s that simple.  The costs of illegal immigration on our school system is crushing it, and we will never be able to afford the costs of a system that is flooded with illegal aliens and the children of illegal aliens.

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  1. James Young said on 16 Feb 2012 at 10:37 am:
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    You raise a lot of legitimate issues, Greg, but I’m not sure that it’s fair to dismiss this idea as “That’s not because this Republican thinks your taxes are too high, no, the whole idea here is to make them higher….”

    I have long said that it makes no sense to have elected school boards who spend money with no responsibility to the voters for raising it. I hope that you would agree that the notion that he who spends it should have responsibility for raising it is not an insubstantial argument, and one utterly divorced from the notion of higher or lower taxes (though I presume that doing so would impose some fiscal discipline on the School Board).

  2. Justin Askin said on 16 Feb 2012 at 12:47 pm:
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    Are the jumbo-trons multi-lingual? If not, they’re a waste of money. If so, they’re a bigger waste of money.

  3. Fairfax Conservative said on 16 Feb 2012 at 1:08 pm:
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    Giving school boards taxing authority would be the fastest way of finally being able to hold them accountable for how much money they’re already taking and spending.

    Local elections are typically dominated by older voters who have no children in the school system, but those voters typically just vote partyline because they have no stake in the system and don’t perceive how the system is costing them money for services they don’t receive.

    If school board campaigns became defined by which candidate were going to increase or decrease TAXES (something older voters have reason to care about), however, there is every chance of actually forcing local school boards to start looking for cuts in order to avoid the wrath of older voters who don’t want to pay more in taxes for a service they don’t receive.

  4. Riley said on 16 Feb 2012 at 1:51 pm:
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    The problem is with the bloated overhead — too many assistants to the assistant, etc. who never set foot in a classroom to actually educate a single child. The entire system needs to be gone over with a fine-toothed comb. If you’re not a teacher in a classroom with kids all day long, then your position needs to be reassessed to see who actually is essential and who we do not have the luxury of keeping at the expense of classroom instructors. We should be able to get by with a much leaner number of administrators.

  5. Henry said on 16 Feb 2012 at 2:45 pm:
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    How about a simple audit done to tell us where the billion dollars plus they have every year is spent? They do not just get county tax dollars, there is the state per diem, the state, federal, and private grant dollars too. I suspect most people don’t have a clue about the carefree spending that occurs here.

    I was going to address teracher raises on the open thread, but since we are here - In my heart of hearts I believe good honest people should make more money every year. That said, taking a bigger bite out of the taxpayer’s wallet to do that seems over the top in these tough times. Teachers have recieved not only a raise every year through this depression, but about a 5% one per year,. Where most private workers who still have a job, and the other county workers have gone 3, 4 and 5 years depending on where they work, to see a 2% COLA that was instantly eaten up by health care costs - not only teachers, but all school system employees from Mr Big on down got hefty raises.

    Becasue the choices were made to spend almost 100 million dollars on a new highschool that could been built for half of that, hire more and more people without any planned outyear funding, and not paying for VRS premiums when there was a “holiday”, it stands to reason they are broke.
    There is NO accountability for how the schools waste the money - nor for performance either for that matter.

    I say give the BOCS a raise, make them full time, and abolish the school board - how much worse could it be ????

  6. Riley said on 16 Feb 2012 at 3:00 pm:
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    Actually, teachers in PWC haven’t gotten a raise the past couple years, not even a step increase for years in the system.

  7. Maureen said on 16 Feb 2012 at 6:24 pm:
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    Does state law give the school board the right to be a taxing authority?

  8. KimS said on 16 Feb 2012 at 6:47 pm:
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    I’m too happy to think about this right now. Can I think about it later……….?

  9. Charles said on 17 Feb 2012 at 3:19 am:
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    RIley, they did get raises last year; there was an initial budget that didn’t, but then they found some money. On the other hand, the county is giving raises now, but they took money from their employees for retirement starting last year, while the school board didn’t.

    I agree with several here, we should consider this proposal seriously. Imagine if we cut the property tax to 43% of it’s current value, and then gave the school board the authority to set their own separate tax rate. Now, the supervisors can’t raise taxes just for the school board (leading them to a 43% “windfall” that they then spend on extra stuff). And the school board can’t hold the supervisors hostage with highly public “shortfalls” to tug the heartstrings.

    And if the school board can’t justify their budget, they’ll be the ones responsible for taxing us and misspending the money, and we’ll have a better reason to vote them out. Right now, it’s hard to get anybody to vote for school board members based on how much money they put in their budget — we blame the supervisors instead.

  10. Charles said on 17 Feb 2012 at 3:21 am:
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    Riley, I don’t think we have an overly bloated budget. At least, the percent of the budget that counts as being spent directly on students is higher than average. Maybe the average indicates that all the schools are bloated….

  11. KimS said on 17 Feb 2012 at 8:28 am:
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    Riley - not to pile on, but school division employees, including teachers, got a 1.3% ish raise this school year (2011 - 2012 SY) plus a .6% bonus. Unfortunately that was pretty much eaten up by the increased cost of their health benefits. Over the past 5 years PWCS employees have received about 9% in salary increases and bonuses.

    The primary reason there isn’t enough money in the school division’s budget to give raises to employees is because the cost of retirement benefits almost doubled this year - to the tune of $32 million. If it takes $5 million to give school division employees a 1% raise, that’s the equivalent of a 6% raise.

    Combined their total compensation has increased about 13% over the past 5 years (9% increase in salary & bonus plus 6% increase for pensions less 2% increase in cost of medical benefits). Our teachers have their pensions funded 100% by county taxpayers and have an additional 403(b) plan that we match up to 2% of contributions. Their salaries and benefits, for similarly qualified and experienced teachers, are pretty much on par with area norms.

    Part of the reason the division’s pension costs went up so much this year is because PWCS, and every other school division in the area, deferred increasing the pension allocation over the past couple of years. The deferral was made so that the division could avoid layoffs two years ago and give our teachers a raise that would make up for the increased cost of medical benefits this year. The BOCS and other county departments didn’t take that deferral, but they also didn’t give raises, and they now have a little excess that they can give back as salary increases.

  12. Fairfax Conservative said on 17 Feb 2012 at 1:02 pm:
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    You will never get a proper audit of the school system until you elect school board members will to CONDUCT said audit. That’s the problem we have in Fairfax.

  13. Red,White and Blue said on 18 Feb 2012 at 11:04 pm:
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    I am tired of the well-paid teachers (insidenova.com have PWC teacher’s BASE pay posted not including any extras, bennies and retirement) and their so called “Work to the Rule” garbage. As a former employer I have been the recipient of their “product”. As work and revenues are down over the last few years, excepting federal employees, I am so sorry they have to suffer along with many of us. The schools already get well over 50% of our hard earned taxes but that is never enough.
    If we all worked to the rule as they insist on how disappointed they would be! I see base pay of many over 60K and higher and again, that is BASE only. Stop the whining and work on a better final product and not punish us and the students.
    Isn’t a wonder how well private schools do compared to public schools and they do not receive ANY taxes. Giving any school “authority” to tax is nothing more than stupidity.

  14. The Real Disgusted said on 19 Feb 2012 at 12:35 pm:
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    It would be a mistake to allow the school system to raise taxes. The current formula works. The automatic percentage of the PWC budget of 56+% delivered to PWCS eliminates the political haggling that would appear. The school board has an annual opportunity to negotiate with the BOCS for any changes. Giving it independent funding authority would politicize its budget more than it is now, further empowering the permanent staff at Independent Hill to ignore the school board. The NEA would assert itself, for itself, like this “Work to the Rule” BS at my son’s high school.

    (By the way - shouldn’t that be called “Work to the agreement my union negotiated for me and that I freely volunteered to do extra activities without an expectation of additional remuneration if it wasn’t explicitly stated.”?)

  15. KimS said on 19 Feb 2012 at 10:22 pm:
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    One point that’s been missing thus far in the commentary is what the work contract actually stipulates. The “contracted hours” is the “school hours” - it’s the hours teachers are required to be physically present in the school. In PWCS that’s 7 hours a day, with different start and stop schedules for each school as they follow different schedules. Other school divisions in the area have a 7.5 or 7.25 hour “school day”.

    One of the reasons PWEA pushed for a 7 hour in school day was so that our teachers would have more time at home with their families. They knew teachers would have to bring work home with them as they have for eons, but felt that having shorter “in school” hours would give our teachers more flexibility to be home with their families, even if they were grading papers while they were at home.

    So Working to the Rule is a bit of a misnomer as the rule is 7 hours per day on site, not 7 hours of work each day.

    The work year for our teachers is also 195 days, or 1,365 hours. Compare that with the typical private sector employee where the standard calculation is 2,000 hours.

  16. Citizen-Veteran said on 20 Feb 2012 at 10:39 am:
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    Good lead-in article by Greg! Some of us remember the autocratic high-handedness behavior of Dr. Edward L. Kelly, Dr. Walt’s predecessor. Kelly fought hard to prevent the establishment of an elected school board. Kelly demanded an independent school division budget. Kelly pulled every string to maintain his fiefdom over local politicians, faculty, staff, and the PWC youth. Of course, having come from Little Rock, Arkansas, where education values are a lost cause, Kelly offered little except a commitment to his own power.

    No, we don’t need a return to school division tax authority. We need accountability in the PWC Board of Supervisors. Today’s school division operations are dependent on the success of public services that are controlled by other county departments too. Unified budget development, approval and management is the solution. Education is everyone’s business in Prince William County - and so is the funding burden.

    Our School Board needs to stress streamlining school division operations and staffing within the funding capabilities of the overall county budget. Fortunately, we have many very fine school board members who are working hard to find the right solutions. I think 2012 will make that clear to all observers. Public involvement is critical.

  17. Iris said on 20 Feb 2012 at 7:44 pm:
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    If you want educated children put them in private school. Skip Disney and eating out.

  18. BristowBristling said on 22 Feb 2012 at 8:08 am:
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    In years past when money was more free flowing, I think the public would have more lenient opinions on teacher demands. But, today, with money tight in all areas, the more they complain, the less sympathetic I become. The School Board needs to tighten their spending belts just like the County Board has. $45,000 to hire out of state artist contractors to paint pictures on school walls is just a small example.

    I am for more equitable pay and benefits for all employees where County tax revenue is being used.

    If teachers receive a raise in pay or benefits, so should Public Works, Police, Fire, Administrative personnel and so forth.

    Demands and threats in this economy make an education supporter like me turn a distasteful eye toward them. I agree with Citizen Veteran that accountability is the key but I feel that accountability lies with the School Board; not with the County BOCS. The school system is given a huge chunk of County revenue supplemented by the State and Feds. Budget wisely.

  19. BristowBristling said on 22 Feb 2012 at 8:11 am:
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    Teachers: Go hold your School Board accountable. Go to those meetings. Make your demands known there. Work with them to manage the budget.

    That is where your arguments belong. Not with the County BOCS.

  20. freedom said on 5 Mar 2012 at 6:20 am:
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    Absolutely, Bristow…..”how money is spent beats how much money can you spend” every time….

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