By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: February 22, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
Community encouraged to attend public hearing, scheduled for February 25 at 6 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – A focus on employee compensation and new positions within county schools made up Prince George Public Schools’ Superintendent Renee Williams’ proposed budget, which the public got to see for the first time during a special meeting of the school board last Tuesday night.
During a half-hour presentation last Tuesday, Williams walked through her budget that, at the end of her delivery, became the Prince George School Board’s budget to then fine tune and garner community feedback on the initiatives and funding proposals therein.
In the lead-up to Williams’ funding proposals, the superintendent presented various school division data points, most notably, enrollment, which continues to decline in Prince George County. According to the data presented last week, student average daily membership has fallen each year since the 2014-2015 school year, the oldest data shown during the presentation.
In the 2014-2015 school year, PGCPS reported an ADM of 6,313. Since then it has fallen to 6,175 as of the current school year and is expected to decline further to an estimated ADM of 6,127, down over 180 students over the last five years.
Those numbers were reinforced by the school division’s yearly March 31 ADM data, which shows, since the 2016-2017 school year, enrollment has dropped by 71 students and was estimated to drop an additional 39 students in the current year budget, as the school division built their FY2019 budget on a March 31 ADM of 6,150.
(Source: Prince George County Public Schools)
While no specific reasons for declines were delivered by the school system, one thing that has been fluctuating is the county’s military-connected student population. According to PGCPS’ military count done in each year in November, between the 2015-2016 school year and the 2017-2018 school year, the school division’s military count has dropped by 145 students from its high of 1,901 in the 2014-2015 year, the oldest data presented last week.
That figure has since rebounded as of this current school year with a military count of 1,804 as of November of 2018.
Another telling number for the school division is the number of economically disadvantaged students they are teaching, shown through free and reduced lunch application data points. According to the school division’s data, nearly 45 percent of the county’s students are recipients of free or reduced lunch as of this current year as over 2,800 students have applied for the program.
That is up nearly 300 students from the oldest data point available of FY2015.
After walking through the data, Williams then shared the bulk of her presentation’s messages, which were her recommendations for funding for the coming school year, focused primarily on employee compensation and the addition of nearly two dozen positions within the school division.
One of the biggest conversation pieces that came out of the ongoing General Assembly session centered around Governor Ralph Northam’s efforts to increase funding to K-12 education in the Commonwealth, with a five-percent salary increase to teachers being one of the most heralded pieces of his budget.
The challenge school divisions are facing when it comes to this salary increase is the fact that the governor’s pay raise to teachers only covers Standards of Quality, or SOQ, positions which is a metric set by the Virginia Department of Education that determines “minimum staffing levels for position categories on a per-pupil basis,” with state and local dollars being allocated to ensure those positions are filled.
In Prince George, only 448.2 of the 864 full-time and 37 part-time positions in the school division are SOQ positions.
What that means, according to Williams, is if the county were to roll out the five-percent pay increase for SOQ positions, the school division would receive an additional $1.3 million to help pay for those raises, but only half of the school system’s workforce would receive the benefits of that salary increase.
If PGCPS were to roll out the five-percent pay increase to all staff, it would cost a total of $2.5 million to do, with only $1.3 million of that being covered by additional state revenues, meaning the school division would have to find an additional $1.2 million in local funding within their own budget to make the raises work.
Instead, to allow for all employees to benefit from a salary increase, the superintendent is proposing a three-percent raise for all employees in her budget at a cost of $1.5 million.
(Source: Prince George County Public Schools)
The next largest expenditure change in Williams’ proposed budget is regarding new positions. In her presentation, the superintendent proposed 18 new positions across the school division, ranging from two new teachers, a math specialist, a career and technical education teacher, two learning specialists, and an English Language Learners teacher.
In addition, she proposed bringing on a human resources director for the central office to help manage the nearly 1,000-person staff they oversee, a mechanic assistant, a Medicaid/CSA Reimbursement Administrative Assistant, a transition specialist, a dean of students, a new para-professional, and two more teachers and learning specialists which would be “reserved” based on their enrollment status.
She added moving from paying employees once a month to twice a month would also require the hiring of an accounting associate.
In total, those new positions represent $1.2 million of the $3 million in salary and benefit changes proposed in Williams’ budget, with the three-percent salary increase’s $1.5 million cost included.
Other increases include the restoration of long-term substitute teacher rates at a cost of $32,295, additional slots for county students at the three regional schools in the area, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School, CodeRVA, and Maggie Walker Governor’s School, and overspending in CSA reimbursement to the tune of $270,000.
In total, Williams’ proposed budget sees expenditures increased by just over four percent over last year’s adopted budget, while revenues show increases in state and federal funding. According to Williams, working with the school division’s finance department, they felt comfortable projecting an increase in federal funding to the tune of nearly $1.1 million when compared to last year’s adopted budget.
The school board will now host several work sessions with what is now their body’s budget where the public is invited to attend and share their thoughts, with Vice-Chair Lewis Stevenson encouraging the community’s input, saying they often ask the audience of insights and thoughts during work sessions.
As of this report, one work session was scheduled for February 18. A public hearing on the school board’s proposed budget has been scheduled for February 25 at 6 p.m.