By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: Apr. 19, 2018 | 12:45 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – A decision on whether or not supervisors will approve the largest request for carryover funds made by Prince George County Public Schools in the last four years has been delayed until next week following a public hearing on the topic.
During their meeting last week, supervisors unanimously approved a motion to defer a decision on approving, denying, or modifying Prince George Public Schools’ $2.7 million request of unspent funds from the previous financial year, placing it on the agenda of the board’s final meeting of the month on April 24.
With the proposed appropriation totaling more than one percent of the county’s overall operating budget, a public hearing was required before any action could move forward on the multi-million request.
According to documentation provided by Prince George County in the lead-up to last week’s public hearing, the county school division has identified 12 items that the nearly $3 million in unspent funds from the 2017 fiscal year would be used on, mainly capital projects and key purchases.
$700,000 has been earmarked specifically for security-related costs, including funding to place “additional police presence in three” of the county’s elementary schools where a school resource officer is not in place presently – Walton, Beazley, and South Elementary Schools – for the remainder of the school year at a cost of $12,000, replacing doors at several schools, adding cameras to “areas in schools that have been identified as blind spots,” adding monitors for additional security review, and adding and replacing interior locks.
Also within that $700,000 of security spending would give “fobs to all 34 police officers to enable them to enter school buildings at a moment’s notice,” provide funds for additional infrastructural improvements as needed, and to help pay for “a safety consultant’s fee to identify problem areas and address needs for additional security and safety at all school buildings.”
Another $700,000 of those unspent funds from the previous year would go toward technology spending, including $315,000 in order to replace “520 devices” each year as part of the school division’s sustainable technology budget, noting that the state allows school systems to use Textbook Funds for devices and just over $208,000 would go toward state-mandated textbook adoptions.
As part of their request, Prince George Schools asks that a “guaranteed [Capital Improvement Plan] fund” of $230,000 be set up to help pay for repairs to the school system’s track which “is currently unusable and has to be replaced.” That work would be done over the summer of this year while students aren’t in school.
Additionally, among the list of proposals is a trio of state-mandated items, including additional dollars to provide special education testing, a vision machine at a cost of $7,000, and a site analysis related to the currently proposed construction of one or two elementary schools sometime in 2018. As of now, the county’s proposed budget features funding to pay for the construction of one school at a cost of just under $30 million, which would be paid for through a proposed five cent increase in local real estate taxes.
Other funds from the carryover request would be used for time, attendance, and payroll reporting upgrades, general maintenance and other furniture needs for Prince George High School and N.B. Clements Junior High School.
During Tuesday’s public hearing, only one aspect of the school division’s plans for using the money drew questions, plans for bonuses for employees who renew their contracts with the school system in the upcoming. According to the school system’s proposal, employees who elect to remain employed with the school division for the 2019 fiscal year, which starts July 1, “a bonus of $500 for all full-time employees and $250 for all permanent part-time employees will be given in July 2018 when each employee signs a continuing contract” at a cost of $350,000 for full-time staffers and $50,000 for part-time staff members.
Resident and substitute teacher Leila Holmes suggested that some of the carryover funds should be used to give teachers and other key staff bonuses.
“I feel bonuses should be given to teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers, bus aides, clerical staff and others,” she said during last week’s public hearing. “Current teachers in the school division would like more money now because when insurance goes up, their money is going to go down. They deserve a bonus now.”
She went on to suggest that teacher pay is affecting the attraction and retention of teachers in the county, saying “more teachers are going to higher paying counties, such as Chesterfield and Hanover.”
According to the school division’s website, as of this report, there are a total of 25 open positions in teaching, with 19 of those openings being posted during 2018. Six others remain open after being posted during the course of 2017.
“If you ever have the chance to observe teachers, you will see that they go through a lot and they, along with the paraprofessionals deserve this,” she said. “They do just as much as the teachers do and they both deserve a bonus now.”
Prior to the school board opting to formally make the request to the county for the nearly $3 million in funds in February, members of the school board agreed to add a caveat to their list of items the funds would be used for, with School Board Chairman Robert Cox saying the list of projects is “a working document” and that it was important to make clear to the county that their list was “a starting point” and “things can be added and subtracted.”
Cox was on hand last week to answer questions the supervisors may have had as members of the school board and senior members of Prince George Public Schools sat in the audience, offering a suggestion to leaders if they were leaning toward reducing the amount of the carryover request, proposing the county clear the loan payment the schools owe the county, roughly $659,000. If that amount was deducted from their request, the schools would receive just over $2 million in funding.
If the full amount or the reduced amount requested by the county school board in carryover funds is approved by the Prince George Board of Supervisors, it would be the largest return of carryover funds in the last four years.
According to county finance records, the most carryover funds the school system has received in the last four years was just over $1.9 million in FY2015-2016 from funds left over from the year prior. In 2015, the school division received only $512,562 in carryover funds back and only $408,000 in 2017.
Supervisors are expected to make a final decision on the request, including a final total, during their meeting on April 24.