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UPDATED: Pr. William postpones budgeting stimulus funds

Prince William supervisors voted Tuesday not to budget, at this time, stimulus funds geared toward creating education jobs -- funds the state has yet to receive and budget itself -- because of concerns that one-time funding for an ongoing cost would cause the schools even more budget woes in the future.

Supervisors called for the meeting Monday out of concern that Prince William County schools officials will hire 180 additional teachers with funding they expect to get as part of the $10 billion federal Education Jobs Funding Bill passed earlier this month. Virginia is set to receive almost $250 million from the bill, but has yet to officially file an application to receive the funding and to determine how the money will be spread across the commonwealth.

Supervisors said they would reconsider accepting the stimulus funding during the fiscal 2012 budgeting process later this year, when more information is available about the funds and when a complete list of school needs is provided. The school board is scheduled to discuss the funding Sept. 1.

"I'm a little disappointed they didn't wait until the September meeting, but I'm glad they left it an open question and that it's not off the table forever," Prince William School Board Chairman Milton Johns said. "I hope we have a chance to discuss this further with the board."

Prince William County Executive Melissa S. Peacor said she has received a letter from schools Superintendent Steven L. Walts that he is working with his staff to offer a modified contract and begin hiring teachers immediately. The contract would state that a newly hired teacher's future with the schools would depend on if supervisors approve the funding. Walts, who had not consulted supervisors, county officials said, was not at the meeting.

"The people elected two boards of eight people each, but [Walts] thought it was appropriate to make multimillion-dollar spending decisions without the help of the elected government bodies," Supervisor Martin E. Nohe (R-Coles) said. "We have legal procedures in place that elected officials make spending decisions."

In an e-mail Wednesday, Walts said that while the schools have been recruiting and looking at doing modified contracts, nobody has been offered one or hired. Walts said the hope was to get new teachers in the classroom prior to the first day of school to avoid disruptions later in the year. Walts said he has been working with principals, and their intention in moving forward was "entirely focused" on helping students.

"We always respect and honor the decisions of our governing bodies," Walts said.

"While our preference is to have the new teachers in place for this year in order to positively affect our students' learning as soon as possible, we will postpone our plans and hope to proceed with the hiring next year. ... For the thousands of students who will not have the additional teachers this year, I am extremely disappointed."

Nohe was one of only five supervisors who were able to attend the meeting and one of four -- along with supervisors Michael C. May (R-Occoquan), John T. Stirrup Jr. (R-Gainesville) and W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) -- who voted in favor of the resolution. Supervisor Frank J. Principi (D-Woodbridge) dismissed himself from the meeting after board members refused to table the resolution until more information was available.

County officials said there were concerns over how the schools would fund new teachers once the stimulus funding dried up in a year. It is also not the county's policy to hire staff before funds are budgeted and appropriated, Peacor said.

Johns said that, although the School Board hasn't discussed it, school officials have said they will be able to absorb the costs in future years because of attrition and the fact that the district continues to grow. In fall 2011, school officials plan to open three new schools.

Walts said the school system typically hires 400 to 800 teachers a year, so it would be able to absorb the positions next year. The funding, he said, would have helped lower class sizes, meet AYP standards and even help leverage additional funding.

"In some schools, even one additional teacher would also have allowed each of those schools to receive thousands of additional dollars through the state's class-size-reduction grant," he said.

Walts said the school system is always interviewing and will have a "pool" of qualified candidates ready in case the stimulus funding does become available later in the year. The process, however, will not be as seamless, he said, as doing it before school started would have been.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By Jennifer Buske  |  August 25, 2010; 3:10 PM ET
Categories:  Jennifer Buske , Prince William  
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How does the fact that VA did not apply for the "Race to the Top" funding factor into this? Isn't that Federal money that was also left on the table? Is this truly about education or is it more politics?

Posted by: bgal | August 25, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

This is a problem that many states and local jurisdictions are facing. Kudos to Prince William County for stepping up.

The allure of these so-called stimulus funds for governments is that they are irresistable. The catch 22 is that they detract from serious efforts to make systemic reforms to thier budget process.

The biggest perpetrator of this is the Governor of Maryland who absolutely refused to take a hard look at restructuring the State finances for two budget years and keeps borrowing from the future.

When you continue to take the handouts from the Feds (who themselves are broke) there will be no future.

Posted by: 15of18 | August 25, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

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