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PWC School Board passes budget for 2016-17; deal retains investments, cuts safety net

Prince William County School Board June 1 balanced the need to protect programs, positions, and raises, with the risk of cutting its reserve safety net, passing a final 2017 Prince William County Schools (PWCS) budget in the face of lower-than-anticipated county funding.

The School Board accepted staff-recommended budget adjustments to eliminate the multi-million dollar revenue shortfall stemming from the Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) decision to eliminate a tax rate increase. Revenue from that increase had been factored into the PWCS budget which was unanimously passed by the School Board back in March.

The newly passed final budget plan retains top priorities funded by the original, including:

• A one-step compensation increase for all employees;
• Major investments in new teachers and support staff to help reduce class sizes; and
• Full funding of school construction and renovation plans in this year’s Capital Improvements Program.

It also spends $1.6 million on legally mandated costs associated with 600 more English Language Learners than originally expected; adds $951,000 to serve Special Education students; and covers an extra $1 million offered, but not yet guaranteed, by the BOCS to fund added class-size reduction efforts.

The full budget plan costs approximately $10.8 million more than PWCS will receive after the county budget decision.

As recommended by the Superintendent, the Board closed some of the gap by spending money normally set aside as reserves to cushion the Division from unexpected budget developments. That spending includes approximately $3 million in anticipated savings from staff turnover and vacancies, and another $1.6 million in additional reserves.

Additional gap-closing help came in the form of greater flexibility to use $3 million in state funding, as well as an added $908,000 in Virginia funding to help meet the demands from increased enrollment of English Language Learners and students with special needs.

According to a news release, further savings came from:
• Hiring two new behavior specialists instead of four;
• Adjusting new hiring to maintain a total of 11 instructional coaches;
• Eliminating one of two new diagnosticians;
• Not hiring a Division ombudsman; and
• Cutting some enhanced spending meant to go above and beyond requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Despite the changes, the budget still allows for more than 140 new instructional positions to aid in class-size reduction efforts affecting virtually all levels.

Budget challenges could still lie ahead if state revenues fall below projections. With lower PWCS reserves, any loss of expected state funding could force new spending reductions. For now, however, PWCS has a balanced budget to start the new school year.

The 2017 fiscal year begins on July 1.

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