On a night when Loudoun's Board of Supervisors gave Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) a clear indication what it can expect in funding from the county for fiscal 2014, that news was overshadowed by what seemed to be cautionary – even threatening – words from board Chairman Scott York.
Near the close of Monday night's budget meeting, just before the board indicated it does not plan to fund a nearly $16 million shortfall in the school system's requested budget, York called out LCPS leadership for failing to bring the school system into the 21st century.
“Change is good, and my words today to the School Board: Change needs to happen at the top of the administration,” said York (R-At Large). “[LCPS Superintendent Dr. Edgar] Hatrick has served this county well for many years, but we are now in the 21st century. Many things have to change. And unfortunately sometimes in order for change to happen change has to first happen at the top.”
Hatrick has served as the superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools since 1991.
The supervisors voted 5-2 Monday to move forward with a property tax rate of $1.205 per $100 in assessed value for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1. That rate is down from the current advertised figure of $1.23 per $100. Supervisors Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) and Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) opposed the $1.205 rate and pushed for deeper cuts, while Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) and Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) were absent.
All votes on the upcoming year's budget to this point have been for guidance and can be altered until the board adopts the fiscal 2014 tax rate in early April.
Since their election in late 2011, members of Loudoun's all-Republican Board of Supervisors have studied LCPS and examined whether it's operating on a bloated budget.
The school system's overall adopted budget for fiscal 2014 came in at nearly $860 million in January. Approximately 66 percent of those funds will come from a Loudoun County tax transfer, but supervisors have refused to sign off on allocating the full amount.
For fiscal 2014, Hatrick requested a $56 million increase from 2013 before the School Board reduced its request to around $31 million. The supervisors agreed to fund $12 million of that amount, and additional funds from the state have come in to put the overall shortfall at nearly $16 million.
For the current fiscal year, the Board of Supervisors granted LCPS a $66 million increase from the previous year, which was still $20 million less than Hatrick's budget request.
Chairman York wasn't the only one to offer an unofficial threat Monday. Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), chair of the board's finance committee, made a motion to set a tax rate of $1.19 per $100 to essentially force LCPS to find cost-savings.
“I want the school staff to start working with us to find efficiencies in the system,” Buona said. “And if they aren't willing to do that, then we're going to, with this motion, we're essentially going to tell them: You're going to have to find the efficiencies, because this is all you have to work with.”
Buona and Volpe were the only two who supported adopting a tax rate of $1.19, which would've bumped the schools' request to approximately $25 million.
Volpe claimed some constituents will have to move out of the county if her colleagues don't agree to a $1.19 rate, even though county staff said that would only amount to a $60 average savings in their tax bill compared with a $1.205 rate.
Members of the Loudoun County School Board have highlighted the need for more local funding so the district can remain competitive in terms of teacher pay and personnel, as well as the district's ever-growing population. LCPS is expected to welcome 2,500 new students next school year and open two new high schools.
Loudoun County's per pupil spending on education is among the lowest in Northern Virginia for the current fiscal year. Arlington spent more than $18,500 per student, Alexandria $17,000 and Fairfax $13,600, while Loudoun's per pupil cost is nearly $11,600
Several supervisors balked at the notion the $16 million LCPS are requesting is really necessary.
Said Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), “I don't believe that the School Board has really clearly articulated what happens if in fact there is a $16 million fact … I mean, that really hasn't been made clear.”
Still, Letourneau made a motion to add more than $2 million to the LCPS allocation, but it failed for lack of a second.
While a tax rate of $1.23 per $100 is estimated to represent an equalized tax bill for the average Loudoun homeowner, shifting assessments throughout the county are likely to cause a number of Loudoun residents to see a tax hike at that rate, which is why supervisors have lobbied for the $1.205 rate.
Fiscal 2014 runs from July 2013 through June 2014. For fiscal 2013, the board adopted a tax rate of $1.235. In fiscal 2012 it was $1.285.