Proposed Stafford school budget brings tough decisions  

by | Feb 28, 2024 | ALLFFP, Government, News, Schools & Education, Stafford

What’s more important to residents: keeping taxes down or funding a stressed school system?  

That’s the question looming over the heads of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors, who met in a joint session with the school board Tuesday night to hear the latter’s 2025 budget presentation.  

Dr. Thomas Taylor, superintendent of Stafford County schools, started the presentation by highlighting several positive things accomplished by the school system. Yet a theme ran throughout the charts and slides — hard decisions face both boards.  

“Stafford is the fastest growing school division in Virginia,” Taylor said. “Managing that rapid growth comes with its own set of challenges.”  

The proposed budget totaled $459.9 million for fiscal year 2025, with a base budget of $414.6 million. The proposed county portion includes an additional $15 million, assuming that $30.3 million will come from the state.  

The price tag includes increases of just over $16 million in non-discretionary expenses — what Taylor described as “the cost of doing business” — as the school system looks to provide for an additional 773 students next year.  

“There is no place to cut, we are at bone,” Taylor said. “That’s bare bones, what it costs to keep us going the same as last year but with 773 more students.”  

The additional $20.1 million in discretionary expenses are entirely for compensation, said Taylor, but does not include most of the initiatives planned in the Five-Year Plan. 

“There is still work to do,” he said. “There’s a lot of ground to cover in terms of attracting and retaining a high-quality staff.”  

Taylor pointed out that many teachers are leaving Stafford County schools to work in Prince William County, noting that Stafford ranks 111 out of 132 school divisions in the state regarding funding. To reach the state average per pupil funding would cost an additional $73 million.

A first-year teacher in Prince William would make $58,775 compared to Stafford’s $50,500. That pay gap increases with experience, with a 30-year teacher earning six figures compared to Stafford’s $98,365—doing the same job.  

According to Taylor, approximately 72% of school staff live in the county, unlike communities in Northern Virginia. Taylor says there were around 100 vacancies over the last two years. But low salaries coupled with taxes and the rising price of rent means teachers and staff may need help to afford to live and work here.

“We want to invest in people,” he said. “But there’s not a lot left over for other stuff.”  

Unmet budget needs would total over $56 million.  

The board of supervisors remained hesitant to commit to the price tag presented to them. “If we do not raise taxes, we keep the effective (tax) rate at 84 cents,” said Meg Bohmke, chairperson of the board of supervisors, “there would be no additional revenue for the schools.”  

Bohmke stated that giving the school board the $15 million requested would require the tax rate to be increased to 94 cents. “We have a number of ‘have-to’s like debt service, the new minimum wage requirements, the jails, the juvenile dentation center, the health department and other partner agencies. We have to build from there. Every penny added on to the tax rate is $2.6 million.”  

“I think sometimes we only hear from those who have kids, who look at the issue from a personal standpoint, but we have to look at it from the system as a whole,” said Deuntay Diggs (George Washington district).

“When we start talking about the tax rate and having to make a decision on that… I remember hearing a constituent saying we are ‘kicking the can down the road,’ and so for all of the years that we did that, I believe it’s coming due now… there are tough decisions. That’s why we ran for this office.”  

“The decisions we make here have consequences for the next 10, 15, maybe even 20 years,” added Maya Guy, who represents Aquia on the school board. “Your local school system drives your local economy. It matters.”  

The next board of supervisors meeting is March 5 at 3 p.m. The school board’s next work session is March 5 at 5 p.m., followed by a business meeting at 7 p.m. 


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