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    Loudoun School Board approves budget worth $1.3 million more than initial proposal

    Loudoun's School Board approved a $982 million budget for fiscal 2016 set to go before the county's Board of Supervisors in February.

    The final number exceeds Superintendent Eric Williams' proposed budget by just under $1.3 million, making some board members uncomfortable.

    In board member Thomas Reed's (At Large) words, the school's budget process has reached half-time.

    Next comes the School Board working with Loudoun's Board of Supervisors, who will pick through the Loudoun County Public School's budget to finalize a county-wide budget in coming months.

    The numbers approved at the Jan. 29 special School Board meeting could change by the end of the county's budgeting process for fiscal 2016. Reconciliation could see much of the proposed budget cut.

    Despite concern over going over the superintendent's proposed budget, the tweaked budget passed in a 7-2 vote, with Debbie Rose (Algonkian) and Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) opposing.

    In total, 10 amendments were made throughout the course of the evening.

    One big twist in the finalization of the budget is the decision to not only add deans back into the middle schools but to keep the 14 middle school library assistant positions that had been cut from the budget as well. With both positions in place, that puts a $661,688 bump in the budget going to the supervisors. Both deans and library assistants were deemed essential for the proper function of the middle schools. The School Board heard the communal cry for retaining the positions in the schools. The topic was one of the most hotly-contested issue for the public.

    In an effort to reduce class size in Loudoun's high schools, $3.69 million was added to the budget for 41 new teacher positions. The teachers would be spread amongst the county's high schools, reducing the average class size by one student.

    Some School Board members provided research that shows benefits to student performance with smaller class sizes. Other board members, like Brenda Sheridan (Sterling), cited common sense as reason enough. Smaller class sizes foster greater interaction between teachers and students and more chances for students to have their needs taken care of, she said.

    Universal full-day kindergarten has been an ongoing topic of conversation for the community and the School Board. Originally in the budget was money allocated for expansion of FDK for English language learners, low-income and some special needs students in schools with the space available.

    A modification made at the budget's approval allocated funds for full-day kindergarten in schools with space and with projected eight or more at-risk kindergarten students. By targeting these schools to house FDK programs, LCSP can cut the need for seven full-time teachers and seven full-time teaching assistants. Classes with 15 or fewer students would only require one full-time teacher, while class sizes with 16 to 25 students would require both a teacher and teaching assistant. The reduction of 14 full-time staff saves $965,762.

    Another money saver in the final proposed budget is the decrease in health care premiums increases from 15 percent to 9 percent.

    The School Board added the position of transitional specialist to the proposed budget, costing $119,000. The position is one board and staff have lobbied for in recent years with a growing need for those in special education programs to transition from high school to the rest of the world, whether that means the workforce or higher education.

    The input of parents and community members, especially those involved in the Special Education Advisory Committee, played a big part in the addition of the position to the proposed budget, according to Board Chairman Eric Hornberger.

    Other approvals budgeted for a class size reduction in Loudoun's high schools by adding teaching positions, adding funds for summer school programs and giving $50,000 to Meadowland Elementary in Sterling to build a long-awaited playground.

    The School Board will go before the Board of Supervisors with the newly approved budget for the first time on Feb. 12.

    Check back for updates on the newly approved budget.

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