In preparation for the 2011 Virginia Legislative Session, the Prince William County School Board has identified the issues it would like to see the Prince William delegation address. These issues, or “legislative priorities,” include those that require continued state funding and those that do not require funding. The priorities are fully supported by the School Board, the Superintendent of Schools, and the administrative leadership team of Prince William County Public Schools.
Of the three priorities requiring continued funding, the School Board is seeking as the number one issue to maintain the implementation of the Standards of Quality (SOQ) at current levels and/or suspension of SOQ mandates.
“In recognition of the challenging economic times, the Prince William County School Board does not seek any additional, new funding of the SOQ; instead it is important for the state to continue funding for public education at current levels,” said School Board Chairman Milt Johns. “We, as a School Division, understand the current reality of state and county revenues.”
The Virginia legislature should also provide school divisions with freedom from some of the more burdensome mandates of the SOQ. For instance, the requirements on faculty-to-student ratios could be suspended, providing school divisions with opportunities to save money in times of declining federal, state, and county revenue.
The second funding issue is a request for continued funding for annual teacher salary increases and the cost-of-competing allocation for Region 4 school divisions. Region 4 includes Prince William County and 19 other counties in northern and eastern Virginia. “We need to continue to be competitive in attracting the best and the brightest teachers,” said Dr. Steven L. Walts, Superintendent of Schools.
The third funding issue is a request for continued funding for the Local Composite Index (LCI) without a “hold harmless” provision. For the 2010-12 biennial budget there was a proposal to delay implementing the revised LCI, which would have cost PWCS $22.5 million. The General Assembly agreed to implement the updated LCI but also fund a 100 percent hold-harmless provision for FY 2011 for school divisions that had an increase in LCI, and a partial hold-harmless provision in the amount of $57.5 million for FY 2012. The hold-harmless provision is a substantial departure from the long-standing methodology for computing LCI.
The legislative package lists six priorities that do not require funding, including authorizing the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) to modify policies that would make it easier to hire retired law enforcement officers to be school resource officers; accepting the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Council’s recommendation to modify state law to provide a three-business day notice to public bodies of the filing of civil actions under FOIA; establishing uniform, statewide grade point average computation standards; increasing the enrollment cap in Virtual Virginia from its present capacity to accommodate more advanced students to participate in advanced courses in a cost-effective manner; directing Virginia’s public institutions of higher learning to implement policies regarding the granting of credit for A and AS Level Cambridge Programme courses comparable to policies established for Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses; and allowing elementary school recess to count as instructional time in highly unusual situations and to be consistent with state requirements for recess and wellness.
In regard to the Virginia Code relating to FOIA, the School Board fully embraces the principle of transparency in government and the FOIA’s purpose to ensure the people of the Commonwealth have ready access to public records in the custody of a public body. The modification requested corrects a drafting oversight to the FOIA provision on mandamus actions that occurred when Virginia Code §§ 2.2-3713.C and 8.01-644 was amended by Senate Bill 1505 during the 2009 General Assembly session. The amendments eliminated the long-standing requirement that public bodies receive prior notice of the filing of a petition for writ of mandamus in actions brought to enforce FOIA. The requested modification will provide public bodies the same right to reasonable and timely service of process granted by law to all citizens.
The official 2011 Legislative Priorities pamphlet for Prince William County Public Schools will soon be available. In the meantime, please go to the School Division Web site, pwcs.edu, to see the presentation made to the School Board at the October 6 meeting.