Prince William County Public Schools received good marks for predicting student enrollment countywide, but needs to improve enrollment projections for individual schools, according to an audit released Monday of the division's methodology.
Student projections help the school division map out a range of resources, from bus routes and the number of teachers per school to the location of future schools and campus additions. And those decisions are linked directly to the fate of 183 mobile classrooms targeted in an ambitious $174 million, eight-year plan to eliminate most trailers.
As part of the trailer discussion last year, a joint committee of school board members and county supervisors called for a $23,000 independent audit of how the county and the school division develop population and student enrollment projections.
The results released Monday offered 19 recommended changes to improve the formulas. Staff will review the suggestions in the coming months, but any changes probably won’t take effect until after planning for the 2021-22 budget next fall.
Supervisor Ruth Anderson, R-Occoquan, asked for the audit as a member of the joint committee, comprised of three county supervisors and three school board members and tasked with discussing school construction needs. Both the board of county supervisors and the school board passed resolutions last December to request the audit.
The 32-page report outlines the current methods to determine future housing units and projected student enrollment and provides detail about many of the recommendations.
One of the six recommendations for county staff is to develop a document that outlines its methodology, because currently it is difficult to obtain a “single, detailed description of the methods employed.”
There were 13 recommendations for school division projections, including more focus on school attendance areas instead of county planning zones, “which may be too small in size to provide a reasonable estimate,” according to the audit.
Anderson said she was pleased with the technical and robust nature of the report. “It’s all very complex, but I believe this is a good road map of getting to the point where the community is confident with projections.”
The county and the school division evenly split the cost of the audit, said Diana Gulotta, the school division’s spokeswoman. The pair hired Statistical Forecasting LLC and RLS Demographics to work together to review the county and the school division’s methods.
Superintendent Steve Walts said in a memo to the school board that school division staff is evaluating the report and will write a summary analysis of the recommendations of the audit report and include comments and a timeline of how to implement the recommendations.
School board member Loree Williams, who represents the Woodbridge district, said she doesn’t think student projections were ever inaccurate.
“Our numbers are generally pretty accurate,” Williams said. “It did serve a purpose - to make sure we are where we’re supposed to be.”
David Beavers, the school division’s planning and financial services supervisor, said the audit
provides a road map of how to continue improving the school division’s enrollment estimates. He said it is not immediately known which of the division-related recommendations can be implemented in the short term or the long term, but that staff will develop a timeline.
“We have to step back and evaluate each recommendation and see what its implementation time will be and how we can make it happen,” said Beavers, adding that staff is thankful for the recommendations and increased focus.
Supervisors Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, Marty Nohe, R-Coles, and Anderson attended the meeting, along with Williams and School Board member Lillie Jessie, who represents the Occoquan district. School board member Gil Trenum, who represents the Brentsville district and serves on the joint committee, was absent from the meeting.
At the joint committee’s last meeting, May 20, members voted 3-1 to recommend that the school board incorporate the $174.1 million plan to reduce classroom trailers, starting in fiscal year 2021. The move means the county and school division are set to work together to hammer out how to add the eight -year plan to the school division’s 10-year capital improvement plan.
Jessie, Nohe and Trenum voted for the resolution, while Anderson voted against, and Principi was absent.
The trailer reduction plan includes additions to elementary and middle schools and two new elementary schools.