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    $55.9 million budget gap a challenge for School Board

    School Board members began the budgeting process Nov. 13 facing the prospect of an estimated $55.9 million less in revenue from county coffers.

    The problem for them is that Loudoun County Public Schools has asked for an additional $45.8 million, in large part to open Discovery and Moorefield Station elementary schools next year.

    The revenue gap comes from a fiscal plan that includes a three-cent reduction in the residential property tax, voted for 4-1 by the Board of Supervisors’ Finance and Government Services Committee Sept. 10, Chairman Scott York opposed.

    Ben Mays, CFO of Loudoun County Management and Financial Services, said the gap could shrink significantly if the real estate tax is assessed higher from growth, but it was not likely to disappear.

    “I don’t see many likely scenarios where that gap goes away but it could shrink,” Mays said.

    The Board of Supervisors originally estimated the gap to be $68.3 million based on information when the motion passed, so it’s conceivable that it could drop again.

    It could also shrink or grow based on how much money Loudoun County receives in the state budget.

    Superintendent Edgar Hatrick told the School Board it would be near impossible for the school system to absorb such cuts without cutting several programs.

    He’s proposed a $867.4 million operating budget for the fiscal year 2014.

    Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) suggested that the school system develop a list of programs, services or personnel that could be cut to provide guidance for the School Board.

    The rest of the board had mixed feelings on the prospect, saying it promoted distrust of the school system and the School Board among the public.

    Hatrick said that such a list would take a long time to prepare and that they would look to the Virginia Board of Education’s Standards of Quality, a series of laws that mandates what requirements school systems in the state must meet.

    “It would be an ugly list, I will guarantee it,” Hatrick said. ” ... The accusation will be that we picked the things that would excite the public.”

    Possible budget items to reduce, Hatrick said, included the $12 million increase set aside for additional employee compensation. He said they could take class sizes up to the state maximum for an estimated $10-$13 million in savings.

    That, however, would only save $25 million total, less than half the gap.

    “After that, you really have to look at programs,” Hatrick said. “You have to start cutting programs and people ... I won’t enjoy the exercise, nor will the staff. But that’s our job.”

    Thomas Reed (at large), also pointed out the School Board was still living with cuts that were incurred during the recession. None had been restored to his knowledge.

    “The staff could give us a list, but it would be scary,” Reed said.

    He suggested holding off until the next joint meeting with the Board of Supervisors. Debbie Rose (Algonkian), agreed.

    “Right now I don’t think a scary list is a good idea,” Rose said. “I think it’ll just get everyone worked up.”

    Jeff Morse (Dulles), cautioned against preparing a list to the Board of Supervisors, saying it would give them increased authority to decide what cuts to make.

    “What I’m most afraid of is that they’re going to become School Board members,” Morse said. “They’re gonna go a la carte on us.”

    Hornberger reiterated that the Board of Supervisors had no authority to the School Board what cuts to make, only to supply a certain amount of funding.

    The board ultimately decided to have the school system staff cost out the number of teachers required to adhere to the Virginia Standards of Quality.

    Hatrick estimated it would take until January to prepare that information.

    Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run), said during the meeting that he had already posed the question to staff.

    Most School Board members expressed frustration with the gap during their first budget work session.

    Bergel said she was concerned that the Board of Supervisors put out the guidance before public hearings, defining the budget debate going forward.

    “I do not understand the elimination of public voice before the process even begins,” Bergel said.

    Vice Chair Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said the Board of Supervisors needed to provide a reason for the revenue gap, stating that it appeared to be an arbitrary expression of a desire for cuts.

    “This number essentially was pulled out of the air,” Turgeon said.

    Rose said she was somewhat sympathetic with the cuts because the school budget comprised about 70 percent of the county budget, overall.

    “I do have some empathy for trying to enhance our funding for things like our sheriff’s department and all the vital services our county does perform on 30 percent of the entirety of the budget,” Rose said.

    Bill Fox (Leesburg) said he didn’t think the cutbacks would be confined to LCPS.

    “I think this is a wrongheaded approach,” Fox said. “I’m pretty sure what they want is for all of their government to tighten their belts.”

    The Board of Supervisors and the School Board will meet Wed., Dec. 19.

    Comments

    LCPS teacher, if you clock has been broken for months and you can’t find a way to get the administration in your building to replace it, I would suggest that you are not very effective in your job.  Its certainly not a money issue - LCPS spends almost $1 billion a year (op + cap budget). 

    As for the 7 hours, thats what the contract calls for.  Have you ever looked in the parking lot 30 minutes after the last bell..80% of the staff is gone.  While you may be dedicated to your students, work many more hours, etc. rest assured that is NOT the norm. It’s been enshrined in a contract.  7 hours a day, 197 days a year.


    You are so smart then fix the clock and it’s good you worker longer then 7 hours a day otherwise we would be getting ripped off at 61k per teacher.


    I can’t wait to see how this plays out.  Nobody seems to acknowledge that the major cause of this budget gap is the 3 cent decrease in property tax.  Last year there were significant cuts with a 1 cent tax increase on assessments.  Also, Loudoun is growing at almost an exponential rate.  Have you all seen the route 50 corridor?  What did people think was going to happen with a 3 cent decrease? It’s simple math people, you cannot decrease revenue and increase spending while maintaining a stable product, let alone increase a performance.  Whether you all want to admit it or not, Loudoun is a county that is growing at an extreme rate and adjustments need to be made.  The raised value of your properties that come with this growth is a topic for another article, but an inarguable one nonetheless. 

    Let me suggest one thing: most of Loudoun, including the Board, are willing to stare down the bluff that many teachers are willing to leave this county.  As a parent, I find this flat out stupid.  As a teacher friend told me (quite insightfully I might add), LCPS is in the middle of a very precipitous 4 year period.  Within these next 4 years, you will more than likely see an exodus of educators from this county. You will see the veteran teachers retire as their retirement options dwindle and you will see the teachers of less than 10 years go to surrounding counties (where there have been salary increases the past year or so).  I know that the argument most of Loudoun, including the School Board and BOS make is that there are plenty of people ready to step in and fill spots.  My question is, if they are so qualified, why aren’t they already teaching?  Let me make it simple for everybody: It’s like trying to pick a winning fantasy football team and waiting until the 4th round to start drafting. 

    But what do I know?  I’m just trying to take an unemotional look at the long term repercussions of short term decisions.


    The budget will end up affecting recruiting. Without step increases, the gap is getting much smaller between Loudoun and other surrounding counties, especially when many can have their years of experience honored in said counties. I have looked into it myself as an LCPS employee. If my steps were honored (which they should since I have under 10 years of experience) there is only roughly a 2,000 dollar difference in salaries. Now, for some, this minimal difference would not make up the difference of commuting cost (both time and money). Look at the numbers; Virginia is graduating much fewer teachers than is needed to fill vacancies. This is why so many teachers are from Pennsylvania. Loudoun will feel the impact in the already difficult to fill critical need areas if their pay does not stay competitive.


    ^Nothing to add but applause.


    Nothing will be cut. Rest assured Hatrick will get everything he really needs.  Hatrick is too smart to to ask for the real number upfront.


    Oranges689, you’re insane to think that teachers only work 7 hours a day. As a LCPS teacher, I can’t remember the last time I worked only 7 hours.

    Additionally, the budget cuts have been hitting the classrooms. Just a small example, we all take for granted—nobody in the county seems willing to buy my classroom a new clock. The clock has been broken for months; it just stopped running one day. All my students keep asking why the schools can’t just buy a new clock. I wish I had an answer for them.


    This all part of the LCPS very effective public relations master plan. First, ask for a huge increase in the budget. Threaten that we will never be able to recruit another public school employee or get our kids to school ever again unless the budget is “fully funded”. (Whatever that means) Next, propose cuts to the budget that will necessitate cutting such frivolities as Math, English and History. (But spare Mandarin Chinese in the elementary schools) Step three is to wait for public outrage to die down and then propose an increase of “only” 4 or 5% instead of 10 or 11 % and send out a press release that highlights the “sacrifices” made by the LCPS while warning that if the B o S continues to shortchange education that our schools will fall apart and our kids will all be forever dumb. Better yet, make a video. Remember, it’s all about THE CHILDREN, not the education machine that consumes 80% of the Loudoun County’s revenue every year. Conveniently argue that, while LoCo has the highest property taxes in the Commonwealth, high taxes will have no effect on our ability to attract and retain a commercial property tax base and new businesses. Taxes should be immediately raised to provide the Kingdom of Loudoun School System with whatever they need because it’s for THE CHILDREN. Make a promise to review the budget line by line to identify and wring out any fat in the budget. At the end of the year, announce another increase in test scores, the construction of 5 new schools (including the first $100 mm high school in the history of LoCo) and a $20 mm budget surplus. The most important part of the whole plan, however, is the spend the remaining funds on electronic whiteboards, iPads or junkets to China BEFORE the Board of Supervisors finds out about the surplus by reading about it in the newspaper. Articulate that a “lack of trust’” between the Board and the Hatrick Administration resulted in the lack of honesty about the budget surplus. (DO NOT admit that the budget had some “padding” built into it)
    In the end, we will continue to increase the LCPS budget by 2 or 3 times the rate of inflation (after adjusting for over-estimated increases in enrollment), the kids will continue to go to gold-plated schools, closing the smallest, most inefficient schools will be “off the table”, English and math will remain part of the curriculum, the land acquisition process will remain done behind closed doors, part-time employees will continue to receive full benefits and Superintendent Hatrick will make yet another junket to a far-off land to observe how they teach their kids and impart this new-found wisdom on the school system.
    But remember, no one in the real world (private sector) gets paid benefits for part time jobs, school employees will remain fairly paid in return for a contractual 7 hour day 197 days a year with full health care and retirement benefits. We will continue to build schools because it not real money if it gets bonded. Sounds like a square deal to me. We must remain calm.
    We’ve read the LCPS budget battle book before and we know how it ends.

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