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…