The Loudoun County School Board will have to find another $16 million to cut from its FY14 budget if tonight’s action of the Board of Supervisors is finalized April 3.
Supervisors voted to direct the county’s finance staff to create a budget based a $1.205 real estate tax rate, with a local transfer to the school system of just slightly more than $553.6 million. That amount will increase the school system’s budget from this year by $20.6 million—including $2.34 million that recently came from the state—but it still falls short of $22.3 million the School Board said it needs to cover its costs next year when it will open two new schools and welcome around 2,000 additional students.
The board also voted to forward a Capital Improvement Program that includes additions to Mercer Middle School and Freedom High School as well as stadium upgrades to Loudoun County High School in FY14, and the construction of two elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school in future years. However, it left out almost $9 million for artificial turf at high schools and pushed the planned Advanced Technology Academy from FY16 to FY18.
After cutting the budget proposal from Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick, the School Board requested more than $30 million in additional funding from the county, and County Administrator Tim Hemstreet included a $12 million increase in his proposed budget. The additional state money decreased the funding gap to $16 million.
“I think this board has kept its promises and directions in reducing taxes,” Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) said. “I think these are measured and reasonable approaches…I think that you shouldn’t make huge reductions just because you can. As long as we keep heading in the right direction think we will be accomplishing what we want to accomplish.”
Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) made a motion to restore the level of funding that would at least cover the cost of the new students in the system, but did not receive a second. He said he did not expect one, but said he wanted to attempt to get the school system the level of funding needed to accommodate student population growth.
Letourneau did support the final motion, however, and noted that the School Board had failed to articulate the impacts of a $16 million cut.
Supervisors said they believed savings could be found in the school budget beyond what has already been cut, and without touching the classrooms or students. They also expressed continued frustration that the school system’s administration has not been willing to work with the Government Reform Commission and the board on potential savings through increased collaboration.
“The effort was not about taking over education or dealing with stuff that had to do with teaching in the classrooms,” County Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) said. “It was about ways we could save money cooperatively.”
York also had strong words about Hatrick and a message for the School Board. “Change is good,” he said. “My word to the School Board is that change needs to happen at the top of the administration. Dr. Hatrick has served this county well…but sometimes in order for change to happen, change has to happen at the top.”
Supervisors Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) and Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) voted against the funding level, with both pushing for more cuts to the schools budget. Buona made a motion to set the tax rate at $1.19, which would have pulled another estimated $9 million from the schools budget. He said he believed all the cuts could come without touching the classrooms, including changing the grandfathering policy on the new benefits plan and what qualifies as a full-time employment.
“There are a lot of people hurting in this community,” he said. “I don’t even have a lot of confidence with where a lot of assessments have gone. There are some double-digit increases. We are going to slam some of these people with this.”
“The sad fact is we all know individuals who are having to tighten their belts,” Volpe said. “People are doing this in their personal budgets…This board has to look long and hard at the faces of some of those constituents that we will be hurting and people who may have to leave this community.”
The board has concluded its work on the budget for FY14 and will take final action at its meeting April 3.