Prince William, Virginia / Schools / Education
by Bill Golden
What if they held a debate, invited you, and you had little to say?
Last night I was a panelist on the Committee of 100 to discuss ‘Should the revenue-sharing deal between the county and the school system be kept in place?‘
A good topic. A great topic … however this is a conversation that could go in various directions.
My position was that I could support either outcome depending upon the details and once we knew more about what the prioritized needs of the schools. HOWEVER, my stated position was ‘No, do not continue the revenue-sharing agreement’. Due to a changing, challenged economy we need all parts of our government to be transparent and to justify every expense. We need expenses linked to a strategic plan that focuses first on needs and then on what we can do.
The conversation did not go there: it being all about the economy.
Committee of 100 attendees were focused on the internal processes and procedural relationship between the BOCS and the PWC schools. Fair enough. That is appropriate. Supervisor Candland of Gainesville and Chairman Milt Johns were on the panel — both did a great job of handling the line of questioning. Both are lightning rods on this issue and both comfortably answered questions and gave solid responses to those asking the questions.
It is all about the economy to me.
Our local economy (as are most in the region) are undergoing a fundamental reset. If we cannot afford the schools that we have then we are in real trouble … not real trouble eventually but now, tomorrow, beginning with the next budget.
Our local government derives 77% (2013) of its revenue from residential real estate taxes. 22% of revenue comes from commercial properties, and 1% from various odds-n-ends. Bad news: Commercial property shifted downwards in 2013, placing more of the burden on homeowners.
Once you blow past the bluster: we live in a great county devoted to people actually just living in the county. There are no major industries. There are barely any minor industries.
Major non-federal ‘in county’ employers as of 2013:
#1 PWC School System
#2 PWC County Government
#4 Sentara Hospital
#6 Northern Virginia Community College
#7 Minnieland Private Day School
#9 Lowes’ Home Centers
#10 George Mason University
Source: Virginia Employment Commission, 2014
THE employer in Prince William County is the Federal Government and Department of Defense; 10 percent of their metro Washington DC employee base lives in Prince William County … and that is before counting its many contractors with jobs located outside of the county.
Washington’s Business Journal (2012) best summed up our local economy:
Prince William County is a jurisdiction of 400,000-plus residents, the second largest county in Virginia, and yet it remains a sleepy suburb. People eat there. They shop there. They rest their weary heads there. And then they wake up and go to work someplace else. Despite its exploding population, recently released data suggests Prince William is very much a bedroom community.
The Future arrived during the summer of 2013.
Summer of 2013 is when defense contractors began slashing salaries and laying off employees by the busload. Hundreds, if not a thousand locals, got pink slips. In some cases, professionals working at Quantico saw their paychecks cut from $120,000 to $75-85,000 … if they wanted to keep their jobs. Even those with technical skills and high-level security clearances were not safe.
So what is the future?
George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis (cra.gmu.edu) issued an insightful updated report in December 2013 entitled: “Housing the Region’s Future Workforce, 2012-2032” by Lisa Sturtevant, PhD and Jeannette Chapman.
The theme of the report may be housing but what the report’s authors did brilliantly is to tie housing to jobs. It is all about the economy.
Some quick takeaways:
- There will be continued jobs growth but the overwhelming number of jobs will be low or moderate paying.
- Prince William County can expect to see an average of about 4,000 jobs added annually — which equals nothing more than normal population growth.
- Housing that costs less than $200,000 will be needed for a significant number of people in newly created jobs.
- More transient rental living units are needed. Home ownership is expected to slide from today’s 65% to 56%.
- RED FLAG: a major threat to jobs growth will be falling wages and an inability to afford to live in the area.
It is all about the economy.
Housing, roads, public facilities, etc., all compete with schools for tax dollars. If we have trouble keeping up now then tomorrow (2015+) will be an even greater challenge.
If we strategically plan immediately for what the next five years look like and prioritize then we should do just fine.
Our challenge is that we are a suburb-based community living on the edge of other counties with dynamic industry-driven economies. We are dependent upon their economic health for our own. That pays for our way of life. That pays for our schools by us having good jobs that pay out-of-county wages that enable us to have median county salaries of $96,000 and not the in-county wages of less than $50,000 annually.
What are we going to say when our median salaries drop to $76,000 or $86,000? This is much more than just a possibility.
I oppose the continued tax revenue-sharing plan between the county and the schools because we need to start thinking differently. Thinking differently begins with establishing priorities, linking them to a strategic plan and then being willing to pay for it … or figuring what to scale back and how to smartly do that.