School Board Chairman Ryan Sawyers says there’s only one way to find out whether Prince William County is ready to fix its overcrowded schools and eliminate the 211 classroom trailers: Let the voters decide whether they want to pay to build more schools faster.

On Tuesday, Nov. 14, during Sawyers’ first meeting back on the dais since his fellow board members formally censured him Sept. 20, the school board chairman made a bold suggestion. Sawyers said the school board should begin discussing a measure asking the Prince William Board of Supervisors to place a new bond referendum before voters in 2018 to raise the estimated $585 million needed to fund the additional new schools outlined in the “supplemental budget” Superintendent Steven Walts presented to the school board earlier this year…. (click to read full story)

…in March, Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, presented a $585 million plan to fund the additional schools over 10 years’ time. Principi presented the plan to the joint infrastructure committee, made up of three school board members and three supervisors, which began meeting monthly to discuss school division building needs last spring.

Principi’s original plan called for the county to “bond out” an additional $58.4 million in debt each year until fiscal year 2027 to pay for new schools. To fund it, Principi’s plan proposed gradually raising the tax rate 6 cents over 10 years, adding between $25 and $30 to the average tax bill annually.

The overall, annual increase on average tax bills at the end of the 10-year period was estimated to be about $277. The amount would not cover operating expenses for the new buildings, however, or fund the new teaching positions – an omission Principi acknowledged when introducing his plan.

Asked about Sawyers’ idea Tuesday, Principi said it might be premature to discuss a bond referendum for 2018 now. Principi said the joint committee is still honing the school division’s needs in terms of new buildings to eliminate the trailers and has shrunk Walts’ initial $585 million estimate to something less than $200 million in additional new construction projects.

That number, however, does not include the additional space needed to also reduce class sizes, Principi said.

The committee had hoped to present a proposal to both the school board and the board of supervisors during a joint meeting planned for Nov. 28. But Principi said the committee has not yet formed a consensus on a plan, which could make such a presentation unlikely.

Beyond that obstacle, Principi said he’s not sure whether the current board of supervisors, which has a 6-to-2 Republican majority, would approve a new bond referendum for school construction.

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