February 6, 2019


Dear School Board members:

Good evening. First, I want to thank our teachers, administrators, support staff, parents, community, and School Board for their support and the great successes we have already achieved this year and for the past 14 years I have served as Superintendent.

I have visited nearly 50 of our schools since August – with the remaining ones to follow, and I have been very impressed with the work I have seen in classrooms in every school I have had the opportunity to visit.

I am also thrilled that 100 percent of our schools are accredited, and that our on-time graduation rate continues to rise to a high of 92.1 percent. That’s nearly 10 percent over where we were a decade ago. Most importantly, this means that 600 additional students successfully graduated last year, who would not have done so previously.

This is the result of the incredible hard work of our staff, who provide Prince William County Public Schools students – from pre-K through high school – with a World-Class Education. We recognize that we have many opportunities for further improvement, and much to do in order to sustain the gains we have made.

For example, last year we conducted an outside audit of special education, and we are making progress this year on the recommendations based on a prioritization developed with input from numerous stakeholders, including the Special Education Advisory Committee. We have also continued to provide local support for the Regional School for Special Education, despite millions in state funding reductions.

Tonight, I will outline my top budget priorities for next school year – focusing on ensuring continued, and even greater, student success. When considering our budget, it is important to recognize that Prince William County Public Schools receives the second lowest per-pupil allocation of any school system in the Washington, D.C. area.

PWCS receives nearly $4,000 less per student than Fairfax County Schools and $2,600 less than Loudoun County, and nearly $8,000 less than Arlington County. If PWCS was funded comparable to Fairfax County Schools, it would equate to $360 million more in funding annually for students and teachers.

Recognizing our fiscal limitations, and our significant needs, my balanced budget proposal this evening focuses on six major priorities.

First – my top priority in this budget is support for our teachers and staff – who are at the heart of our success. I am very pleased tonight to propose a step increase for all eligible employees, in addition to a cost of living increase, an average of nearly 4.8 percent increase in pay for teachers and support staff. This is the largest pay raise in a decade and, in part, due to state funding of a five percent salary increase divided over two years of state budgets.

Additionally, while the health care costs have increased nationally this year by six percent, I am proud to announce that my budget proposal includes no increase in employee health care costs.

We also continue to implement job grade adjustments as a result of the School Board commissioned market study, conducted by external experts, of the various jobs across PWCS. And as a result, 475 positions found to be below market are being adjusted in this budget to better align with surrounding school divisions and employers.

Additionally, this budget proposal includes a 2% increase in the stipend for all coaches from robotics to football and all other athletics, and for piano accompanists and drama coaches, and all other performing arts stipends.

I am also including in this proposal an additional $100,000 in tuition reimbursement to support professional development of our staff. This is an option that is open to all classroom instructional personnel or classified employees seeking a teaching degree.

Also, to support professional development I am proposing funding for teachers and principal visits to high performing schools to ensure we are learning from each other.

My second budget priority is special education as we continue our focus from the current school year into next school year. My budget will fully fund the positions and support recommended as part of the Comprehensive Review of Special Education conducted last year. This will include 15 new positions within Special Education and additional funding for communication devices.

Also, despite dramatic reductions in funding from the State, my budget for next year includes three million to maintain the Regional School for Special Education.

My third priority and an identified priority by our principals is mental health. We all know that the mental health of our students continues to be a key concern. To address this concern, I am proud to propose 46 new counselor positions, as well as more psychologists and social workers to support mental health work in our schools. These positions will reduce ratios at every grade level.

I am also proposing additional nursing positions so that every school will benefit from the care of a full-time onsite nurse. This investment in the well-being of our students totals nearly $5 million.

The fourth priority within my budget proposal is Career and Technical Education and High School Programming. We must ensure we are preparing students for life beyond PWCS. This may include college or entry directly into the workforce or the military.

That is why I believe that it is critical that we fund Career and Technical Education programs that provide the 21st Century skills necessary to thrive in the digital economy, while continuing to expand high school course offerings and hiring more teacher coaches.

Tonight, I am proposing more than $800,000 in additional support for our wonderful Career and Technical Education programs. This will fully fund the first year of our five-year CTE plan outlined and embraced by this Board just a few weeks ago.

The fifth priority of this budget is class size – recognizing the importance of engaged students and balanced teacher workload, I propose sustaining the investments we have made in reducing class sizes. This effort includes continuing our $1 million match with the County for smaller class sizes. This is a $2 million continuing investment in class size reductions.

I am also proposing to continue restoring Economic Disadvantaged Funding, lost during the great recession, in order to provide greater equity across PWCS. This will provide $3.3 million – to schools who can use this help with class size as well as other critical personnel and programs – with $2.5 million of that going to elementary schools.

A key component of smaller class size is having classrooms – and this budget includes an increase of $3.86 million in debt service to support our Capital Improvement Program.

This debt service increase includes support for opening of the new “Parkway” school – soon to be officially named by our School Board – and adds a total of 95 classrooms targeted to reduce overcrowding in the eastern areas of Prince William County, as well as providing the opportunity to reduce trailers Divisionwide.

The sixth, and final, major priority in my proposed budget is support for pre-Kindergarten education. The research is clear – students succeed when they start with a foundation of strong early education.

I believe it is critical that we continue funding pre-K programs that provide students with that chance from day one and seek ways to expand availability for more families.

That is why my proposal tonight includes nearly $1.9 million in funding for the Virginia Preschool Initiative. PWCS has 44 preschool classes and I am proposing doubling the number of Title I pre-K classrooms next year.

Beyond these investments, I am also directing that we form an exploratory committee to examine options for increased public-private partnership to deliver PWCS pre-K curriculum to more students.

While I have highlighted the six key priorities that comprise the bulk of this budget, there are a few other areas of opportunity for improvement that my budget proposal addresses.

This includes transportation, where we know that the ongoing bus driver shortage has impacted service delivery. In past budgets, we have managed to upgrade our fleet, and I am pleased that every school bus has air conditioning – and by the way – every school kitchen has also now been air-conditioned.

However, having a fleet of buses, without drivers is not effective. So tonight, I am proposing the creation of a dedicated bus driver recruiter to improve and expedite our hiring process. Additionally, I am proposing four additional positions in transportation to improve the effective management of our routes and schedules.

In support of our students’ need to be college and workforce ready, this budget adds $1.5 million in funding to update technology in the classroom.

I am also proposing the addition of athletic trainers, so that all our middle and high schools will benefit from this critical role as we implement proper concussion protocols and other health needs of our student-athletes. In addition, to support our student-athletes I am proposing the next turf fields be built at Battlefield and Forest Park, and auxiliary gyms be built at Gar-Field and Woodbridge High Schools.

Lastly, to improve service-delivery to our families, this budget will provide the funding necessary to implement the use of credit cards for payment of school-related expenses such as field trips, fees, and tickets to the planetarium.

As I stated at the beginning of my remarks – the work of teachers, administrators and staff – to deliver a World-Class Education, without World-Class funding, is remarkable. In fact, even with this positive budget, we still remain below the per-pupil spending of a decade ago, when adjusted for inflation.

However, it is my belief that – in partnership with the School Board – if we make the investments I am proposing this evening, we will make a significant positive impact on the ability for every child to succeed and thrive, and for every teacher, administrator, and support staff to feel supported and appreciated.

I thank you for your continued support and partnership, as we work together to ensure every one of our more than 90,000 students in Prince William County has a World-Class Education.


Sincerely,

Steven L. Walts
Superintendent of Schools