The question of how to shrink class sizes and move students out of school trailers remains one of the most contentious issues in Prince William County, but the school board and county supervisors have managed to find a bit of common ground on one potential remedy.
In a rare joint meeting on Nov. 28, the two boards acted unanimously to direct their respective staffs to work together to buy hefty parcels of land for schools and other public facilities. The move is designed to help the county government and its school division to avoid targeting the same properties around Prince William for various capital projects, and even start co-locating schools with other county buildings as open land grows increasingly scarce.
There remains a wide gulf between lawmakers from each side of the county (and each side of the political aisle) on how exactly to fund the construction of new schools, or even the purchase of the land. But all board members seemed to agree that a shared land acquisition process, developed through a joint capital improvement committee formed last year, is a necessary first step as land prices continue to rise.
“I hope this process makes it a little more palatable to my conservative friends, because staff will bring this to us on a case-by-case basis,” Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge, said in an interview.
“It’s not going to all come from one source…there’s lots of ways to pay for this.”Deputy County Executive Michelle Casciato stressed to board members that staffers will bring promising parcels of land to lawmakers only on an individual basis, and “each one will have its own financing plan.
” A committee of county and school division officials would be charged with evaluating properties and finding land that could meet the needs of both boards.That sort of collaboration is “desperately needed,” said school board member Gil Trenum of the Brentsville District.“
Plenty of time over the years, we’ve been working at cross purposes, looking at the same properties,” Trenum said. “This is a long time coming.”
The new arrangement won’t change anything about the two sides’ revenue-sharing agreement, which splits tax revenue between the county and the schools, and (critically) it doesn’t address the question of how lawmakers will pay for the new schools needed to shrink class sizes and eliminate the use of trailers.
That’s where the two boards are a bit more divided…