“In Prince William County, every child deserves access to a quality education no matter where they live in the county.”
As a former student representative on the Franklin Township Board of Education and as a Prince William County Democratic Committee Ad-Hoc Schools Committee Chair, I have an intimate knowledge of the challenges that school boards face to close the achievement gap, create equity in education, and fund vital programs that contribute to academic success. Every child, no matter where they live in our community, deserves access to a quality education regardless of their socioeconomic status or background.
Prince William County is the “second largest school district in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We are home to 100 schools and centers employing approximately 11,542 school teachers, administrators, and staff that serve approximately 90,203 students throughout the county. Prince William County schools have been ranked among the Nation’s 100 Best Communities for Young People by America’s Promise Alliance and ING, for three years in a row. The school system includes:
• 12 High Schools
• 16 Middle Schools
• 60 Elementary Schools
• 2 Traditional Schools (Grades 1-8)
• 1 K-8 (Elementary/Middle) school
• 3 Special Education Schools
• 1 Alternative School
As the next Occoquan District Supervisor, I am proposing that we focus on several key areas to provide students in Prince William County with a world class education. These key areas include; putting our children first by investing rapidly in capital improvements and creating more equity in our school facilities, supporting our teachers as they educate our next generation of leaders, looking at innovative ways to increase school division revenues, creating and fostering opportunities for educational partnerships to expand opportunities for higher learning, funding the expansion of Pre-K for all Prince William County residents, working to close the achievement gap, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and funding critical special education programs. When we adequately invest in our public school system, our teachers are equipped with the best tools to educate the workforce of the future.
Children First, Capital Improvements and Equity in School Facilities
Our children’s future starts today, and we should prioritize their needs first. Prince William County serves approximately 90,203 students in about 95 different facilities. Children are often packed into classrooms or trailers due to classroom overcrowding which does not allow for them to maximize their full potential. The school division has developed a Capital Improvements Program that begins to address the issues of overcrowding, but lags far behind in keeping up with our rapid growth as a county and current school enrollment trends.
The Prince William County School Board and the Prince William Board of County Supervisors in recent years have formed a Joint Capital Improvements Committee to address reducing classroom trailers and overall capital needs, but they have still not managed to solidify a definitive plan to make the reduction of classroom trailers a reality. In 2018 they approved a plan that would eliminate 206 classroom trailers at 44 schools, but getting this plan funded and added to the capital improvements program has stalled. Originally the plan would cost Prince William County tax payers $159 Million and delays in making a final decision have ballooned the cost to $179 Million.
As the next Occoquan District Supervisor, getting this portable classroom reduction plan included in the Capital Improvements Program and having it funded in the FY 2021 County Budget will be one of my top priorities. I would also like to bring more teachers, parents, students, members of the business community, and developers into the conversation to ensure we have a long term plan for smart growth and we create a permanent solution to eliminate classroom overcrowding. Having our students learning in trailers is not only a safety issue, but it has been proven to be a barrier to improved student performance.
As the next Occoquan District Supervisor, another of my top priorities will be partnering with the Prince William County School Board and developing public private partnership to bring more STEAM labs and classrooms to schools throughout Prince William County. As we look with an eye towards the future and our 2040 Comprehensive Plan, we need to ensure every student has access to explore and develop a love for STEAM. The Prince William County School system should be a leader in our commonwealth and that starts with the realization that we need to start investing in STEAM labs now rather than later. When we fund access to dedicated spaces to advanced science, technology, engineering, arts, and math; we allow our students to think critically and practice high level problem solving regardless of their socioeconomic status or their background. Making these investments are critical to student development and their success in the 21stCentury.
We must also ensure there is equity in funding our school athletic facilities to give our students athletes the best facilities to succeed and compete in an environment that keeps their safety in mind. As the next Occoquan District Supervisor, I will work closely with the Prince William County School Board to expand funding for existing facilities so there is more room for student athletes to practice and will also fund updates to deteriorating facilities in our school system to improve safety and usability across all schools.
Support Our Teachers
Many studies have found a correlation between job satisfaction and job performance. The correlation is just as significant when discussing our teachers. When we ensure that teachers are satisfied, our teacher retention rates will be higher, and we will see a correlation in student success rates. Currently, the annual salary of a teacher in the county is $59,000 while the average cost of living in the county is $65,000. The disparity in income versus cost of living requires most teachers to work two jobs or seek employment in neighboring counties where they can get a significant pay increase. By working closely with the Prince William County School Board, I will continue to push for annual increases in teacher salaries to ensure their salaries meet and are in keeping with the basic cost of living. For what our teachers give our children, that is the least we can do.
Not only is adequate funding needed for teacher salaries, but so is funding for teacher professional development. With the changes in the world and in the classroom, it is essential that our teachers stay up to date so they can deliver high-quality instruction aligned with college and vocational career readiness. How do we benefit our students if they aren’t entering the world ready to tackle these growing challenges? However, professional development for teachers is only successful if other items are in place (smaller class sizes, more support for teachers, up-to-date facilities and equipment, etc.). We must not only train our teachers to be experts in the classroom, but we must also empower them to be leaders.
In Prince William County, our children are important and are one of our most prized assets. Let’s make sure that everyone has a seat at the table so that we can ensure their access to a world-class education.
Increase and Diversify Local Tax Revenues to Fund School Division
In Virginia, school boards do not have taxing authority and are fiscally dependent on their local governments. Prince William County Government collects tax revenue from local sources (i.e. property taxes, local sales taxes, etc.) and then transfers a percentage of the revenue to Prince William County Schools. Working cooperatively, the School Division and the Board of County Supervisors created a revenue sharing agreement. The School Division currently receives 57.23 percent of the county’s general revenues under this agreement.
The real property tax is the single largest revenue source for Prince William County contributing approximately 65.1 percent of general revenues. It is levied on all land, improvements and leasehold interest on land, or improvements (collectively called “real property”) except that which has been legally exempted from taxation by the Prince William County Code and the "Code of Virginia.".
Currently our county relies heavily on real property tax revenues from county real estate to keep our general fund for the county budget well-funded, but we have not adequately encouraged an environment to bring in more commercial revenues from commercial properties in the county. As the next Occoquan District Supervisor, I will work hard to diversify our tax revenue base to bring in more commercial revenues to help fund our public school system through our current revenue sharing agreement.
Building Educational Partnerships
As the next Occoquan District Supervisor, I want to continue to build partnerships with the tech, medical, and major business industries in our local area and with Northern Virginia Community College to create more college/career goals for Prince William County students. By working closely with the Prince William County School Board, I strongly believe that these opportunities will attract more people to our local community and give students an advantage in preparing to go into a competitive career market.
As the next Occoquan District Supervisor, I would also like to partner with Northern Virginia Community College (Woodbridge Campus) to encourage them to place greater emphasis on economic development initiatives to help diversify our local/regional economy and create high-paying jobs for our community college graduates. The perfect way to complete these objectives is to begin a broad conversation on the steps needed to bring a state of the art Innovation Center to Prince William County. This Innovation Center would provide opportunities for NVCC students, faculty, and staff to collaborate with industry leaders, participate in internships, and have a dedicated space to experiment with creating their own tech startup companies and inventions.
Lastly as the next Occoquan District Supervisor, I would like to build partnerships with existing colleges, universities, and trade schools in Northern Virginia to encourage them to offer reduced tuition rates and registration cost to current Prince William County employees. Expanding opportunities for current county employees to pursue higher education opportunities empowers our county workforce and keeps them competitive in their prospective fields.
Funding the expansion of Pre-K for All PWC Residents
As the next Occoquan District Supervisor, I am committed to working with the Prince William County School Board to ensure we include funding and procure classroom space to expand Pre-K opportunities for all Prince William County students.
Research findings highlight the benefits of expanding access to high-quality preschool, especially for children who are disadvantaged, to improve the long-term outcomes for children and their families. For children at risk of falling behind in school, quality early learning and care programs can help improve their readiness for school and school success, with better attendance, higher test scores, and reduced grade-level retention (Karoly & Bigelow, 2005; Reynolds, Temple, & Ou, 2007). Other lasting benefits include higher rates of high school completion, greater likelihood of attending college, and higher lifetime earnings (Reynolds & Ou, 2011). By reducing grade retention, the use of special education and welfare, and involvement in crime, these quality programs can save between $4 and $17 for every dollar invested (Reynolds et al., 2007; Schweinhart et al., 2005)
Even middle-income families have difficulty affording center-based preschools, with the average cost per child estimated at one third of the median annual income in the county (Burd-Sharps & Lewis, 2014).
As Occoquan District Supervisor, I would like to build countywide interest in universal preschool and work with the Prince William County School Board to develop a way ahead to make this a reality for our residents. Not only will this give our students a competitive edge early on and provide our county savings in the long run, but it will also provide an economic relief for working class families.
Closing the Achievement Gap, Ending the School-Prison Pipeline, and Special Education Funding
Over the last decade the Prince William County School System has seen significant demographic changes with increased minority enrollment overall. These changes put our county in a unique position to increase achievement levels of minority and low income students. And as the next Occoquan District Supervisor, I am committed to creating academic equity across the county and to ensuring we fund the tools to close the achievement gap. These investments include adequate county funding for developing a rigorous curriculum, increasing academic standards, and retaining the best teachers.
Across the country the school-the-prison pipeline has become an epidemic and has proven to disproportionately affect students of color. As the next Occoquan District Supervisor, I am committed to protecting every student’s civil right to a quality public education and advocating for the end of zero-tolerance policies. I would like to work with our local Prince William County Police Department to ensure that our Student Resource Officers receive adequate training to deescalate situations with our students and prioritize keeping students in the classroom so they can continue to receive a world class education. More funding for student counselors and psychologists in our school system opposed to armed security guards are critical to students learning in a comfortable environment and not in fear.
As the next Occoquan District Supervisor I am committed to providing adequate funding in the budget for our special needs programs in our Prince William County School System in addition to adequate funding our gifted and talented/specialty programs. When funding our local school system, it is important that we encourage the school board to differentiate funding based on specific student learning needs, distribute funding for special education equitably, and provide special education services that result in the effective and efficient delivery of high-quality services.