School board passes next year’s budget

Prince William County School Board passed next year’s $505 million operating budget Wednesday, a 13 percent increase from last year that will meet growth of 3,000 new students, raise teacher salaries and continue school expansion.

“This budget will be the envy of all the school boards around,” said School Board member Steven Keen, Woodbridge District. Other Northern Virginia school systems this year are struggling with budget deficits and backlogs in school construction.

Among the budget highlights:

l A countywide parent-teacher communication system, for $153,000, more modern than the ParentLink program at Stonewall High School that won the school honors in Time magazine. Several other county schools already use this type of phone- and Internet-based system that allows parents to look up their children’s assignments, grades and attendance records. The county communication system is far cheaper per school building than school-based systems, which run between $15,000 to $30,000.

To participate, a school still has to buy equipment for $4,700 to $6,900 and pay annual maintenance costs of $1,600 to $3,100, but county officials said financial help will be sought from area businesses through the Prince William County Public Schools Education Foundation.

l Ten additional school nurses, for $447,000, as next year is the second year of a five-year plan to provide a nurse in every county school. Over the next three years, 45 more nurses will have to be funded.

l Enrollment will increase by 3,073 students next year, past the 60,000 mark, adding $22.6 million to the budget.

l Teachers will see a 7 percent pay increase on average. School Board Chairwoman Lucy Beachamp said another important way to improve teacher retention is the school system’s ability finally to pay its experienced teachers for mentoring new hires, two years after the idea first was discussed. Approximately 250 mentors will receive $668 each. In the last five years, 27 percent of school positions have turned over.

On top of its $505 million budget for operations and debt service, the school system will spend $91 million on facility construction and $53 million on food services and non-instructional operations.

The school system will issue $55 million in construction bonds for land acquisition and planning of the ninth and 10th county high schools, both scheduled to open in 2004; the J.W. Alvey Elementary School in Gainesville, for which the $9 million construction contract was awarded Wednesday to V.F. Pavone Construction Co. of Manassas; and two middle school additions.

The School Board also approved spending $1.6 million out of the current budget year’s surplus funds to install security cameras at all schools and school sites and also $250,000 to repair and resurface three high school athletic tracks.

The school board will present the budget to the Prince William Board of County Supervisors on April 2 and the supervisors have until April 30 to approve it.

Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (703) 878-8062.

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