The Prince William County School Board approved its $1.4 billion fiscal 2023 operating budget Wednesday night, sending it on to the Board of County Supervisors, where it will need final approval by the end of April.
A 14% increase in overall funding, the new spending plan should provide for an average staff increase of 7% through a step increase for teachers and staff as well as a 4.2% cost-of-living adjustment. According to Associate Superintendent for Finance John Wallingford, roughly 80% of the budget’s new spending over last year’s will go directly into the classroom. Per-pupil spending for a projected enrollment of 89,837 students will surpass pre-Great Recession levels for the first time when adjusted for inflation, having lagged for over a decade despite rapid enrollment growth.
Beyond the pay increases for existing teachers, the proposed budget funds a variety of new positions aimed at key priorities of Superintendent LaTanya McDade’s new four-year strategic plan, which the school board approved last month. Among them are 100 new full-time special education assistants, 88 new full-time kindergarten assistants, 26 gifted program teachers and 15 new career counselors.
“In building out this budget I feel many voices were heard. To me, the alignment to the strategic plan makes us more competitive, financially responsible and gives us strategic steps to achieve the goals,” Brentsville board member Adele Jackson said Wednesday night. “… All of this is directly linked to student success.”
But questions still remain about exactly how much state funding the school division – the second largest in Virginia – will receive from the General Assembly budget that has yet to be hashed out. The proposed spending plan includes $121.5 million in new money from the commonwealth, bringing its contribution to the school division up to $731.7 million. But the state’s big increase in tax revenues may not ultimately turn into the full contribution planned for by the division.
Republicans in control of the House of Delegates have approved a number of tax cuts and new rebates that could impact school revenues, and both chambers in Richmond have for now agreed to eliminate the state’s grocery tax, a portion of which goes to schools. Budget negotiators between the House of Delegates and the Democratic-controlled state Senate have continued to work to finalize a budget agreement before Gov. Glenn Youngkin calls the General Assembly back for a special session. The school board projects that about $50 million in cuts to Prince William’s schools could be on the table depending on how negotiations in Richmond pan out.
The budgeted $599 million contribution from the county could also change depending on whether the Board of County Supervisors decides to drop a proposed 4% tax on restaurant meals. The tax is projected to generate $24.5 million, of which $14 million would go to schools. The county’s revenue sharing agreement with the school board calls for 57.23% of county general revenue to go to the school division. That $599 million contribution is $50.6 million, or 9.2%, more than the current fiscal year’s.
“No one really knows until the state finishes their budget work. If Youngkin comes in and starts cutting education stuff and wants to put more money towards lab schools or charter schools, I guess he could do that,” School Board Chair Babur Lateef told InsideNoVa. “That’s where the fight’s going to be.”
Teachers who’ve spoken at public hearings for McDade’s budget have largely applauded the pay increases and new positions, but teacher and teacher’s assistant hiring has been a challenge for the division since the start of the school year, which many attribute to workforce changes caused by the pandemic. Even still, a national and statewide teacher shortage pre-dates COVID-19. According to Virginia Department of Education data, the number of teacher vacancies across the commonwealth has risen by over 60% since the 2018-19 school year.
On Wednesday night, Prince William Education Association President Maggie Hansford told the school board that her organization had collected the requisite signatures from schools staff to form a collective bargaining unit, which would give the board 120 days to either adopt or decline a collective bargaining resolution.