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    Loudoun County Public Schools struggle to cut from its budget

    Loudoun County Public Schools on March 18 suffered a major setback in the budget process after the Board of Supervisors indicated they will not fund the nearly $16 million shortfall for the school system.

    The blow is the second one for advocates of the school system, after the property tax rate dropped from $1.23 per $100 to $1.205. Those in favor of the $1.23 argued that it would have allowed the school budget to be fully funded.

    For the the 2014 fiscal year, Superintendent Edgar Hatrick initially asked for an increase of $56 million before the School Board reduced the request to $31 million, ultimately increasing the total budget 4.4 percent from last year. Between $12 million from the Board of Supervisors and additional state funds, the school budget is still roughly $16 million short.

    School Board member Bill Fox (Leesburg) admitted the dissonance came as a bit of a surprise to the School Board.

    “We put out a budget that we think reflects information we've gotten form the budget cycle, so when there's an extra cut at the end it makes everything we've done seem irrelevant,” Fox said.

    Now the school system faces the daunting task of adjusting the budget. This begs multiple questions for parents and taxpayers. How does Loudoun's school budget compare to neighboring districts? What will be cut to adjust for the shortfall?

    From this year to next, enrollment in Loudoun County Public Schools is projected to increase by 2,566 students, or 3.8 percent, while asking for a budget increase of 4.4 percent. Still, specialized care in the system has ballooned in the last six years, with the English as a Second Language population growing 63.3 percent, the special education population growing 48.5 percent and the free and reduced lunch population growing 67.7 percent.

    Moreover, by most metrics, Loudoun spends less than neighboring school districts. Fairfax County Public School's 2013 budget was $2.4 billion, compared to Loudoun's $1.16 billion and Prince William's $1.8 billion. Per pupil, Loudoun spends $11,595, higher than Prince William's $10,163 per student, but lower than Fairfax's $13,564. The state average was $11,316. Loudoun also straddles Fairfax and Prince William with total amount of dollars spent for instruction at 79 percent.

    The Loudoun County School Board Finance and Facilities Committee has yet to meet since the budget request was denied and won't meet until April 1 due to spring break.

    As such, the LCPS Budget Services Department has only tentatively looked at what to cut following the Board of Supervisor's announcement.

    “Staff has started taking preliminary looks,” said Janet Gorski, the director of Budget Services. “But there's not a whole lot going on right now.”

    When LCPS experienced a budget shortfall last year, the school system was forced to reduce spending by nearly $11 million.

    Much of last year's reduction – more than $5 million – came from reducing or eliminating vacant and new job positions. Another $1.4 million came from program elimination and $1.8 million from reduced technology expenditure.

    “When we don't fill positions, that's going to translate into a reduction of services,” Fox said. “We don't have any employees that do nothing.”

    Fox said the School Board's main goal is ensuring services reductions don't happen inside the classroom, but warns they may strike in other places, like transportation or custodial work.

    “If the supervisors think we can pull out $16 million or $17 million and run the same … That's not what's going to happen,” Fox said.

    Ultimately, Fox said the school system will continue to provide a high level of education for its residents, but operations may function differently.

    “I'm not going to say the walls to the schoolhouse are going to crumble. We're still going to continue to provide a great education in Loudoun,” Fox said. “But people need to understand that in exchange for lower taxes, there will be a lower amount of services.”


    Comments

    I post this every year becasue every year, its the same story.
    —————————————————

    Remain Calm Everyone!

    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, the bus drivers will continue to drive the buses 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 job and that school employees will remain fairly paid in return for a contractual 7 hour day 197 days a year with full health care benefits and retirement benefits after 25 years.  We will continue to build schools because it not “real money”  if it gets bonded and comes from the Capital Budget.  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.


    The 2014 school budget is an increase of $31 million(from $56 million Dr Hatrick requested). So, why does the media headline state “struggle”? Any increase in my personal budget is a good thing.


    $16m out of a budget of $1,600m is 1%. This is enough to play politics but not big enough to actually change anything.


    “Do more with less”
    It’s that simple. There are plenty of qualified people lined up to take the place of those that want to work in Fairfax.


    I think it’s interesting that Fox says “we” will provide a great education to Loudoun considering 1) He doesn’t support educators (which is apparent by his new insurance plan) and 2) He was a subpar educator himself that was “December Listed” or put on “watch” when he was teaching.

    I won’t sit here and canonize all teachers because just like every other profession, there certainly are some unworthy workers.  However, it really is a miracle that this county can keep any good educators with the budget climate of the past 5+ years.  Not to sound apocalyptic but if these boards run out all the seasoned veterans due to their arrogance and agendas, and the younger eager teachers due to political maneuverings that result in no pay increase, higher insurance for families, and lower overall benefits, this school system will implode.  But hey, at least our taxes were lowered 2.5 cents.


    Every year Hatrick asks for a huge increase and gets most of it(only $19 mill short this year). I’m sure they will just tack on fees and sock it to the HS parents again, Instead of actually cutting some high chiefs from payroll, better use of bus service, outsource some support jobs and stop renting George Mason for Loudoun county graduation ceremonies(hold it at football stadium).

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