In a recent joint meeting, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and the Prince William County School Board agreed that reduction in class size and increasing community access to high school fields are priorities that need to be addressed.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Walts presented a plan that would reduce class sizes at the transitional levels of kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades. Walts’ plan would add one teacher at each middle school for sixth grade students for a total of 16 teachers. Another 13.2 teachers would be added to bolster staff and reduce the student-to-teacher ratio of kindergarteners. Walts’ plan also reduces the maximum number of students permitted per class at the kindergarten level from 28 students to 27 students. At the ninth-grade level, Walts’ plan called for 11 additional teachers, or 1 teacher at each of the County’s high schools. After adjusting the school budget with cost savings, the estimated additional revenues necessary to fund the plan would be roughly $3.6 million in the first year.
Another aspect of the plan is increased funding for teachers’ professional development. One professional development, or instructional coaching position, would be added at each level of the plan. Each of the teacher and professional development positions would cost $81,480 in salary and benefits. The plan also calls for $75,000 to send some instructional staff to state and national conferences in their field. Another $100,000 is recommended to bring in experts for professional learning for teachers.
Members of each board agreed that the plan was a good, incremental, first step toward reducing class sizes and student-teacher ratios. Some expressed wishes that the plan had gone farther in specifically reducing class sizes, but acknowledged it was a necessary starting point.
Walts said he and the School Board could adjust if necessary. “This is not set in stone,” Walts said. “It doesn’t have to be this plan, but in the short amount of time that we had to prepare it, I think it is a solid plan we can stand behind and we can defend, and it is a start. It’s a definite beginning. If it is the School Board’s will and the Supervisors’ will, we can certainly make this a more aggressive plan.”
Funding the increased revenues required to support the plan were discussed at length. All members of those present from the Board of County Supervisors and the School Board agreed it was necessary to put more revenue into education whether through reprioritization of current budgets or additional revenues.
On the question of allowing the public more access to high school fields, none of the School Board members present voiced objections to the idea. Several said they recognized that tax money went to pay for the fields and said they would welcome public use of the fields, as well as other school facilities.
School Board Chairman Milt Johns said the school board has been open to the suggestion for years. “I think all of us on the School Board recognize that it’s the community that paid for those buildings. Certainly, my own predisposition is if we could run them 24/7 we let them run 24/7 to maximize the use, if it was practical.”
Johns did, however, place a caveat on his position and said that the fields would need close management with seeding, sodding and other maintenance. “In the end they still have to be a primary resource for the schools and the students, the children. At the same time, we have a growing community with more and more children coming. Personally, I am open to finding ways to make it more efficient to expand access to the community to our buildings and our fields.”
Chairman Stewart noted that if the Board used funds to turn some of the sodded high school fields into artificial turf fields that would eliminate the concern for field mowing and maintenance expressed by the School Board. “If we put turf fields at some of the high schools and opened them to the leagues on the weekends and times when they aren’t in use, the schools would benefit and the community would benefit.”
School Board member Gilbert A. “Gil” Trenum, Jr. echoed Johns’ remarks and said the schools and the community had to find a robust solution. “The schools are a community resource. The parents are paying for them with their tax dollars. Let’s not forget that most of the children who are using the fields for their rec league games are sitting in those same buildings during the week as our students.”
Solutions to the identified issues will be discussed and fleshed out during the upcoming budget discussions at the School Board meetings and Board of County Supervisor meetings.