The Stafford County school division is “nearing a cliff,” superintendent Thomas Taylor told School Board members Thursday evening.
The division has nearly $63 million in needs that are unfunded in the budget for fiscal year 2025 that Taylor presented to the board.
But if the division falls off the cliff, “recovery will be even more costly,” he said.
Taylor’s budget presentation highlighted many successes of the past few years. They include the establishment of an order-ahead food pantry and a student-run Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program; the introduction of specialty career academies at three high schools; breaking ground on the sixth county high school; and fundraising efforts to donate 57,000 meals and 2,000 winter coats to the community.
But he also sounded alarms about the declining student performance and per pupil spending.
In 2012, according to the presentation, Stafford ranked 15th out of 132 Virginia school divisions in terms of student performance (based on combined SOL scores) and 79th in per pupil expenditure.
Twelve years later, the division is now in 68th place for student performance and 111th (up one spot from last year) for per pupil expenditure.
Also in that time period, the county’s share of financial support to the school division dropped from 45% of the division’s budget to 37.8%.
“The correlation (between declining funding and student performance) speaks volumes,” Taylor said. “Our students, families, and community deserve a high-quality school system. This clearly will not happen without a more significant investment. There is a price tag for solving problems and it is time to pay the bill.”
The price tag
Taylor presented a balanced operating budget of $453.4 million for fiscal year 2025, which begins July 1. That’s up $38.8 million from the current fiscal year and is based on an anticipated $23.6 million more in state revenue and a $15 million increase in the transfer from the county, based on the County Administrator’s budget.
This budget would allow the division to implement the third phase of adjustments to the teacher salary scale—which are aimed at creating a scale that mirror’s Prince William County’s in terms of slope—and make similar adjustments to the salary scale for non-licensed and instructional support positions.
It would also pay for 144 new full-time positions that are needed to accommodate an anticipated 619 new students next year (Stafford is the fastest-growing division in the state); math instructional supplies required by new state standards; and bus replacement and growth, among other non-discretionary expenditures.
But the budget does not pay for $63 million in further identified needs, many of which have been deferred for years. These needs include $4.2 million to provide differentiated pay for hard to staff positions; $3.7 million to implement staffing standards; $1.2 million for building safety enhancements, such as window film; $2.2 million for staff wellness, support and professional development; $4.2 million for cyclic replacement of student and teacher technology—and $19.5 million for major capital maintenance.
“I am very genuinely concerned about the maintenance of our schools,” Taylor told the Board.
Major maintenance expenses should be 2.5% of the insurance value of physical assets, Taylor said. That means the division should be spending $19.5 per year on maintenance.
Instead, the division’s practice in the past decade has been to debt-finance projects, which ends up costing more money, or defer cyclic maintenance to deal with emergencies, which only digs a deeper hole, Taylor said.
Projects that are currently unfunded in the five-year capital maintenance schedule total $131.3 million.
Taylor said the Board of Supervisors and state say every year, “We made the largest transfer to the Schools in history.”
“To which we say, ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Duh!’” he said. “This is a tired phrase that frustrates us. We are growing very quickly, and every year should be the largest transfer to the schools in history.”
The Board will hold budget work sessions on January 23, February 6 and February 13 and the division will host budget town halls for the community on January 29, 30, 31 and February 1.
Budget documents and information are available at the school division’s website.
Chair and Vice Chair elected, student representatives seated
The Board also held its annual organizational meeting, which had been deferred due to snow, on Thursday.
Garrisonville representative Maureen Siegmund was elected as Chair and Aquia representative Maya Guy as Vice Chair. Both Siegmund and Guy have children who attend Stafford schools.
“I am honored to serve as the chair of the school board,” Siegmund said in a press release. “It is especially important to me that we have parents with children actively attending our schools represented and leading the school board. This, along with the voices of our new student representatives, will help ensure that we are keeping in mind our students as we make decisions affecting them.”
The primary student representative for 2024-25 is Joellaine Duku, a junior at Brooke Point High School and the alternate is Jennifer Odetogun, a junior at Mountain View High School.
“I’m still kind of shocked at being selected for this role—it feels great though,” Duku said. “I hope to accomplish something that has a lasting impact on Stafford Schools.”