PWC Schools Using Taxpayer Money To Lobby For Higher Taxes

Notice anything unusual about these websites?

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Go to any Prince William County school website and you will see the same message repeated at the top of EVERY SINGLE PAGE on the website about the county budget.

Click on the “Read more” link and you’ll be brought to a page on the school administration’s main website that includes the following:

Availability of revenue required to pay for the plan was projected based on the tax rate “advertised” by the BOCS back in February. The advertised rate is the highest taxing level the BOCS can adopt. Projected revenue from that rate helped close a gap in the Superintendent’s original budget proposal, but supervisors could still cut the tax rate—and resulting school funding—when they are expected to adopt a final tax level on April 29.Sizeable turnouts by parents, students, teachers, and other PWCS employees, highlighted the importance of the school funding decision at recent BOCS meetings. It reinforced the reality that reductions in the advertised tax rate would force significant cuts to the newly adopted PWCS budget (which also depends on not-yet-finalized state funding levels).

Interested individuals can monitor and weigh-in on budget developments:

  • April 1, 7:30 p.m. – School Board presents PWCS budget to the BOCS;
  • April 8, 2 p.m. BOCS budget recap;
  • April 8, 7:30 p.m. BOCS public hearing on budget;
  • April 22, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. BOCS budget markup;
  • April 29, 7:30 p.m. BOCS adopts final county budget on which PWCS funding depends.

All sessions take place at the county’s McCoart Administration Building. Several School Board members will attend the April 1 meeting.

They are not simply trying to “educate” the public on why they need to press for more money for schools. It would be one thing if they were looking to reprioritize the overall county budget or its own budget in order to place an emphasis on reducing class sizes and increasing teacher pay, but they are not. Clearly, the school administration is advocating raising county property taxes given their emphasis on the tax rate.

This is a classic example of a public entity using taxpayer money to lobby for . . . more taxpayer money. At the federal level, it is generally illegal for recipients of grants to use those taxpayer funds to lobby for additional money. In fact, if it can be shown that any portion of federal grant money to the county schools was used in support of this effort, it could possibly violate any number of federal anti-lobbying statutes and bring about a Department of Education Inspector General’s investigation. At the state / local level, we get into the very grey aspects of Virginia’s loose ethics laws.

Contrast this with one of Prince William County’s neighboring counties where there is a strict policy that school equipment is to be used for official school business only (and this does not include contacting their school board or Board of Supervisors about the budget.) One principal in that county has gone so far as to threaten action if any of his teachers uses school equipment to lobby the school board or Board of Supervisors. That same county recently sent out an email from its central office to PTAs who have access to their computer systems informing them that they are not allowed to use school equipment to advocate that parents come out to school board or Board of Supervisors meetings. Meanwhile in PWC, you have the central office using the entire county school system’s computer network in a lobbying campaign for higher taxes.

As the husband of a teacher in the county, my family is all for reducing class sizes and increasing teacher pay. However, there is something unseemly about the way they are going about it using taxpayer funded resources to mount this lobbying effort to raise taxes. (How about redirecting some of those resources to reducing class sizes and increasing teacher pay?) If I wanted a government that operated like this, I would never have left New York State all those years ago.

UPDATE: I have just received information from an inside source that the letter posted at the above link was sent out to every county school employee via email yesterday by the school administration. Unbelievable.

UPDATE 2: Here are some questions raised by a budget cruncher I know who has examined the school budget. Why do we have 61 vacant positions at the elementary level, 51 middle school, 61 high school and 35 special ed? And why are they showing that in FY ’14 they will save $10,429,427 by hiring less experienced teachers at lower salaries than what they were paying teachers who retired or moved, but they’re not spending that money on increasing teacher salaries or reducing class sizes. Something stinks here…

 

PWC School Board Sets An Example For Our Supervisors To Follow

Our accolades to the majority of the Prince William County school board who voted to study moving to a zero-based budget process (h/t The Derecho and PWC Education Reform Blog.) Chairman Milt Johns and Board members Lisa Bell, Betty Covington, Steve Keen, Alyson Satterwhite, and Gil Trenum each deserve our thanks.  In light of the looming financial problems facing the Fairfax County school system, these six individuals supporting this move should be commended for their foresight that hopefully will help PWC avoid a similar fate.

If the school board can eventually adopt a zero-based budget with their oversight of nearly 60% of tax revenues collected by the county, then our Board of Supervisors has no legitimate excuse as to why they couldn’t do the same for the other 40%+ of our tax dollars.  It will be interesting to watch how the county’s top governing body responds as this continues to unfold.

Stewart & Caddigan – Fools for School Pools

From InsideNOVA:

Supporters of a controversial indoor-swimming pool facility proposed for Prince William County’s 12th high school can count two elected officials among their ranks: Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart and Supervisor Maureen Caddigan.

In interviews this week, both Stewart, R-At Large, and Caddigan, R-Potomac, expressed their support for the $10.5 million aquatics center proposed for the new high school, which is set to open in the fall of 2016 in the mid-county region near the corner of Va. 234 and Hoadly Road.

Do either of these people have any sense of priorities or money?  I don’t think that they do.

NOT ONE DIME of taxpayer money should go towards a swimming pool in a county public school until kids no longer have to be placed in trailers for classrooms, class sizes are reduced, students have enough desks and books where they no longer have to share them, and teachers’ salaries catch up with surrounding jurisdictions in Virginia.

As if the $10.5 million wasn’t enough, that does not include maintenance, debt service or a myriad of other ancillary costs that total at least $1.5 million annually.  Don’t even try to say that this school pool and others like it on the drawing board can pay for themselves by allowing county residents to use them for a fee.  Just the annual operating costs amount to $4,109.58 per day every single day of the year.

Some argue that having pools in schools will attract more businesses and residents to the county.  Something tells me that the negatives of having the largest class sizes in the Commonwealth and underpaid teachers outweighs the positive of a swimming pool in most people’s minds.

Nearly 60 cents of every tax dollar the county collects already goes to the school system and they want to divert this significant amount to a recreation facility when we have so many unmet priorities in classrooms?  I don’t oppose public swimming pools in general.  My daughter is now on a swim team, so I understand the need for additional pool lanes.  Just don’t go raiding the school budget for this.

If I could retroactively take away all of my past votes for both Stewart and Caddigan, I would do it in a heartbeat.  They are both major political disappointments who have stayed too long and should be shown the door at the earliest opportunity.

PWC Tax Bills Will Soon Be On Their Way Up…

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors will vote tomorrow, April 23, on the FY 2014 tax rate.  A resolution has already been drafted setting the rate at $1.181 per $100, which amounts to an average tax hike of 2.3 percent.  There is much flowery language included in an attempt to provide a fig leaf here (“lowest tax bill”, “lowest tax burden”, “efficient and effective governance”, etc.), but the bottom line is people’s taxes are going up.

On top of that, the tax rate itself is among the HIGHEST in Northern Virginia (to make up for the home values which are well-below where they should be.)  Since this resolution singled out Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun, let’s look at their current tax rates.

City of Alexandria – $0.998 per $100

Arlington County – $0.971 per $100

Fairfax County – $1.075 per $100

Loudoun County – $1.205 per $100

Prince William County – $1.209 per $100*  (that does not include the $0.0744 for Fire and Rescue Levies nor the ​$0.0025 Gypsy Moth Levy, which if added together would bring PWC’s tax rate up to $1.2859 per $100 – the other listed localities do not hide their true property tax rates behind additional levies.)

Only Loudoun’s is even close (and that is before you add the fire, rescue, and gypsy moth levies.)  But wait!  The Loudoun BOCS is poised to cut the average property tax bill by 2% in FY 2014.

The board voted, 5 to 2, to direct county staff members to prepare a budget based on a real property tax rate of $1.20 per $100 of assessed value, a rate that would lower property tax bills by about 2 percent.

Well, what about Stafford County?  They surely must have a higher property tax rate since their home values should be lower the Prince William County, right?  Wrong.

Stafford County – $1.07 per $100.

Furthermore, as the Sheriff of Nottingham blog points this out about PWC:

A Flat Tax bill would have still increased the tax bill on 54% of homeowners because of appreciation of the value of their homes, so the hidden tax increases are embedded in even budget proposals that claim to hold tax bills at the same rate as the previous year.

Apparently that isn’t good enough for what will likely be a majority on the Board when the votes are counted tomorrow.

Well, there is another resolution that people should be aware of (and in full disclosure, I am the author of it.)  Last month, the Prince William County Republican Committee adopted this at its convention:

A RESOLUTION RELATING TO
THE PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY FY 2014 BUDGET AND PROPERTY TAX RATE

WHEREAS, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors have voted to advertise a maximum real estate tax rate of $1.196 per $100 assessed for FY 2014 that would result in an average increase of 3.53% on homeowners; and

WHEREAS, general property taxes are growing exponentially faster than the county’s population; and

WHEREAS, our residents are struggling financially, cutting back on life’s extras as their paychecks shrink and gas prices soar; and

WHEREAS, county government needs to learn lessons from the family budget; and

WHEREAS, the county has managed to secure an average surplus of $31.4 million per year over past six fiscal years that is then spent each August during the so-called “carry over” process; and

WHEREAS, this averages out to nearly $75 for every one of the 419,006 men, women and children that the last U.S. Census determined are living in the county or $300 for the average family of four; and

WHEREAS, the county’s unmet critical needs could be taken care of by these annual surpluses; and

WHEREAS, many of these core services remain underfunded while we handout money to equestrian centers and museums, not to mention performing arts centers that are supposed to be self-sufficient, but for which county taxpayers now find themselves on the hook indefinitely;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Prince William County Republican Committee hereby calls upon the Board of County Supervisors to adopt a tax rate of $1.154 that will result in the average property tax remaining level from FY 2013 to FY 2014; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Prince William County Republican Committee calls upon the Board of County Supervisors to prioritize spending to fully fund the core functions of local government before it allocates any funding for other items; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT the Prince William County Republican Committee calls upon the Prince William Board of County Supervisors to institute “Accountability Budgeting” whereby clear measurable goals are set, progress is verified, and adjustments are made as necessary based upon what works and what does not work.

Keep in mind, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors has a 6-2 GOP majority on it. Well, that is if you count people who only seek the nomination of the Republican Party strictly out of political convenience even if they do not follow the party’s most basic tenets. (I believe the appropriate term here is “RINO.”)

County Chairman Corey Stewart, a candidate for the GOP nomination for Lt. Governor at next month’s Republican state convention, has fought a battle alongside freshman supervisor Pete Candland of Gainesville to pass a flat tax bill budget and protect tax payers.  They’ve even managed to bring endangered incumbent Wally Covington around on this, even if it is out of political necessity and not deep-seated conviction.

I’m sure that the county board hiking taxes, even if he votes against it, is the last thing that Corey wants less than a month before the nominating convention.

Appoint Chris Royse To The PWC School Board

There is an opening on the Prince William County School Board in the Woodbridge Dist. due to the resignation of Denita Ramirez who stepped down on account of a new job offer.  The school board will now begin the process of selecting a replacement who will serve until the seat can be permanently filled at the next general election.

Even before he made his interest known in this position, I thought of Chris Royse.  Royse and his wife Kathy have lived in Woodbridge for years where they are raising their three children who all attend PWC schools.  One can only describe these two as involved parents concerned about the educational opportunities for their children and wanting nothing but the best for our county’s students.  Chris has waged two hard-fought campaigns for Woodbridge Dist. supervisor based upon detailed, issue-oriented platforms.  Many of the issues that he has shown great commitment to, both in those races and as a citizen, relate either directly or indirectly to education — whether it be continuing to improve our schools, job training or public safety matters.  In fact, he has served as the At-Large Representative on the School Board’s Safe Schools Advisory Council.  His professional life has prepared him well for this position, too, in particular his role in the rebuilding the earthquake shattered nation of Haiti.

Chris Royse would be a great asset to the PWC School Board and I urge them to appoint him to represent Woodbridge.

Political Correctness has taken over TJHSST

Over the last few years, the admission office at TJHSST has tried valiantly to make the school the perfect mix of races, and intelligence.  TJ can only admit 450 students a year while more than 3,000 apply.   In the school’s never ending, politically correct, race based goals, the admission office now admits  at least one-third of the students randomly and randomly rejects that many too.  Some of the best math students in the county are excluded and some of the worst are admitted.  Most important in admission is a politically correct essay, not math ability or math grades.  That has resulted in 1/3 of the TJ students needing remedial help in math and science.  Let’s remember, it’s called Thomas Jefferson high school for Science and Technology.  It was set up to educate our best and our brightest math and science students, those who needed more than their base high schools had to offer in the science and math fields.  Their educational needs could not be met in their regular high schools.  It was a way to educate future pioneers in the fields of medicine, engineering, and science.  Until the late 1990’s, the school did just that.   It was an amazing place, filled with students  who lived for math and science and computer science and couldn’t get enough of it.   They worked hard and loved every minute of it.

One of those teachers who was most loved by the best math and science students, was Dr. John Dell.   The top students couldn’t wait to take his AP physics course during their junior year.   Dr. Dell  has taught AP physics, among other physics subjects, for over 20 years.  He is so good, he went to MIT to teach for two years, and then returned to TJ because he wanted to work with these bright, enthusiastic, high school students.   Dr. Dell recently shared his views about the new TJ in an opinion piece in the Washington Post.  Among other things he says “The old Jefferson was never a route to increased STEM achievement in the general school population. Rather, it was created to nurture promising STEM students at just the point where such students come into their real power — where their brains are literally fired up and ready to go. The regional commitment to the old Jefferson, tenuous from the start, has finally been overwhelmed by other agendas. A genuine success has been followed by political failure to embrace and sustain it…..At the new Jefferson, students are no longer selected primarily on the basis of their promise in science, technology and mathematics. One-third of the students entering Jefferson under the current admissions policy are in remediation in their math and science courses.”

Today, Senator Warner announced a new, bipartisan, bill to encourage job growth.   He said  “Too few American college students are pursuing advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. So Startup Act 2.0 would, in effect, staple a green card to the diplomas of foreign-born students earning advanced STEM degrees who can demonstrate they are willing to remain in the United States to apply their talents here and create new jobs.”

Obviously the US is not educating enough of our students so that they are prepared to major in  science, technology, engineering and math in college.  With their politically correct admission goals,  TJ has decreased even further the number of American students who will be educated well enough to major in STEM fields by their policy of admitting students who need remedial help in math, rather than admitting those who could truly benefit from the TJ experience.  Not educating such students has lead our Congress to try to find ways to IMPORT students who are prepared major in STEM fields because the US desperately needs them.

My question, why is the US allowing political correctness to dictate education to this extent?  Why aren’t we educating our best and our brightest across the country so that they are prepared to major in STEM fields?   Why do we permit large school districts like Fairfax to adopt more and more dumbed down math curriculum, like Everyday Math?  Even worse, Prince William adopted Math Investigations.   With all the controversy surrounding that terrible math program, Loudoun county promptly adopted the same, flawed, math program, with all new math textbooks and teacher training, while begging the school board for more funding because they had no money to do anything!  It would appear that dumbing down math is THE MOST important education goal in our country.   If other countries can teach math right, well enough for their students to succeed in STEM in our colleges, why can’t we do it in the US?  The answer is simple, we CAN do it, but we CHOOSE not to.  We have allowed political correctness, and liberalism, to dominate our educational system, and these are among the causalities, schools like TJ, and the teaching of real math.  Even worse, we are wasting our best and brightest students in the never ending, liberal, goal of proving that all students are equal, equally bright,  and equally motivated to succeed.  If we have no difficult math and sciences courses, everyone will appear to be equal, equally ignorant and equally uneducated. but equal.  But it’s the appearance of equality across all races, genders, and income levels, that is most important, even at the expense of our students and our country’s future.    Right?

What a waste for our students and for our country.  If we continue down this path, who will be the next Bill Gates and Steve Jobs?  The next Jonas Salk?  The next Edison?  Our people are our best resource and we could be educating them to excel, but we’re not.  Shame on us.

Another letter to the editor on this subject here.