Prince William County Public Schools staff might be getting a slightly larger pay bump than initially proposed.
But division staff cautioned that any pay raise could be in jeopardy if the Board of Supervisors lowers the county’s real estate tax rate to avoid an effective tax increase for homeowners.
Division officials discussed the spending plan during a School Board work session following a public hearing on Wednesday.
Superintendent Steven Walts said the division now plans to increase its proposed cost-of-living adjustment to 2% for employees rather than the initial 1% plan for the fiscal 2022 budget, which starts July 1. The extra percentage point will cost $5.4 million.
County Executive Chris Martino’s proposed $1.35 billion budget for the county includes $664 million for the school division, a $34.4 million increase over the current year. The proposal is largely in line with Walts’.
Walts’ budget expects about $19 million more in money from the state and $2 million more in revenue from the federal government. County funding makes up about 45% of the division’s revenue while state money accounts for about 41%.
While Martino is not proposing to raise the real estate rate past $1.125 per $100 of assessed value, residential real estate values increased by an average of 7%. Therefore, if the rate remains the same, homeowners would be paying higher tax bills.
Associate Superintendent for Finance and Risk Management John Wallingford said if the division lost that much revenue, the first place it would try to cut costs would be in the pay raises.
“That would be an unfortunate outcome,” he said. “It would be something we would have to deal with.”
Occoquan board member Lillie Jessie asked if the division had considered a hazard pay bonus for staff amid the coronavirus pandemic. Walts said he instead proposed a cost-of-living increase because one-time payments don’t count toward retirement.
Jessie said staff deserve the bonus on top of the pay increases because they have been working throughout the pandemic.
“I think these people have gone far and beyond what was necessary to do the work,” she said.
Jessie and Potomac board member Justin Wilk said staff in schools that have been holding in-person classes deserve an extra show of gratitude from the school system. Preschoolers through third-graders returned to in-person class in December.
Walts said he would be open to an extra bonus for staff in those schools, but cautioned the board that it could be received poorly from those who don’t get the bonus.
Walts said Wednesday that the budget has been increased to reflect a salary increase for bus drivers and an equity adjustment for selected positions.
The proposal would fund 15 additional elementary school counselors, five new Virginia Preschool Initiative classes, six additional full-time psychologists, and $2 million in school-based summer school funding.
Two people spoke during a Wednesday public hearing. One called for a higher cost of living increase and the other said more needs to be done for students’ mental health.
The division also discussed a potential increase in federal stimulus funding working its way through Congress, although all revenue projections were preliminary. Board members questioned staff about various parts of the proposal in the work session.
The board is expected to vote on the budget and submit it to the Board of Supervisors on March 17.