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Loudoun School Board seeks to preserve classroom, staffing in budget reconciliation process

At the April 9 School Board meeting, the board members made one thing clear to Superintendent Edgar Hatrick about the budget reconciliation process: don't touch the classrooms.

The meeting marked the first time both the School Board and Hatrick have discussed ways to trim the board's adopted $859.67 million budget, after the Board of Supervisors left a $16 million gap in funding. Hatrick originally requested $876.39, a 6.5 percent increase from the fiscal 2013 budget, before the School Board pared it down by $16.7 million.

Hornberger initiated three unofficial straw votes during the meeting, in which the board requested Hatrick keep the $12 million earmarked for employee raises, not lay-off employees and not increase class sizes.

The reduction of staff force is a pressing issue, as LCPS is required to notify teachers subject to lay-offs by April 17.

Hornberger also noted to the board that eliminating the raise for teachers would also eliminate more than $3 million from state funding, which was contingent on a salary increase for staffers.

While Jennifer Bergel (Catoctin) said she wouldn't be opposed to increasing some class sizes, as some classes in Loudoun have just 15 students while others top 25, but other board members were more emphatic.

“Cutting staff is a cut inside the classroom,” said Bill Fox (Leesburg). “Increasing class sizes is a cut inside the classroom.”

While Hatrick respected the board's request, he expressed some concern as to where he could cut.

“With all due respect, I hope you leave me a little wiggle room,” Hatrick responded. “Either that or start writing checks.”

In general, the board encouraged reducing the amount of money spent on operations and maintenance and transportation.

“I think I saw O&M increased 10 percent from 2013 to 2014,” Fox said. “That seems like a place where we should find deficiencies. The places where increases seem grossly disproportionate in terms of growth, that's where we should be looking.”

Debbie Rose (Algonkian) agreed with Fox.

“I think the pain should be felt in the O&M and the administration, not the classrooms,” she said.

Board members also made specific cut recommendations. While Rose opposed cuts to freshman sports, Fox said he wouldn't be opposed to the measure. Bergel recommended just a one-time bonus, rather than a raise, for teachers who earn National Board Certification.

Thomas Reed (At-large) inquired to Hatrick about an issue that has been hotly debated in the past.

“You previously said you would not include closing small schools in budget recommendations,” Reed said. “Would that include itself in budget reconciliation?”

Hatrick tentatively said that avoiding cutting small schools was something for budget recommendations, but not necessarily reconciliations.

In addition to suggestions from assorted School Board members, the Board of Supervisors made their own contentious suggestion earlier in the process, recommending that the county drop health insurance for staffers that work under 20 hours.

The prospect could prove perilous to 580 employees, according to Joey Matthews, president of the Loudoun Education Association. Of the 580 employees, 370 are bus drivers or school bus attendants.

Matthews is encouraging the School Board and superintendent grandfather current part-time employees, allowing them to keep their insurance.

“When you hire someone and offer them insurance, they expect that,” Matthews said. “The people that have been here did not expect it'd be taken away.”

The reconciliation process will continue at the April 23 School Board meeting, when Hatrick will present a list of proposed cuts.

Comments


The issue of health care for “part-time” school bus drivers isn’t nearly as simple as OpenMic seems to think. LCPS already has a hard enough time recruiting and retaining bus drivers. Eliminating health insurance coverage will put Loudoun County at a severe competitive disadvantage with neighboring counties. Further, the 30 hour cut-off is unrealistic. Very few regular ed bus drivers are offered 30 hour contracts (the norm is around 22 1/2 hours), yet a great many work more than 30 hours. Why? Because they’re driving our kids to field trips, driving our athletic teams to games, substituting for drivers who are sick or whose buses break down, and simply going to fuel their buses - all, tasks above and beyond their 22 1/2 hour job of driving our kids to and from school. The sub-30 hour contract is a gimmick the County uses to provide scheduling flexibility and cut costs, but the truth is that a great many drivers who do the schools’ work will be unfairly and unreasonably denied health insurance even though they actually work more than 30 hours every week. This will work to the detriment of the school system and its students, our children, as future drivers will choose to drive for other systems and leave Loudoun high and dry.


Kind of seems impossible, keeping classroom numbers down, by the looks of some School Board members new boundary plans. Over half the schools reached capacity within a year or two of the boundary changes. Briarwoods HS needs to be twice the size to handle the numbers. Way too many houses being built, look for another HS, MS and ES to be built soon.


When did health insurance become an entitlement for part time employees?
Bus drivers and attendants who chose their part time job (30 hours or less) because of the great benefits including health care should simply find another part time job offering great benefits. If those alternative part time jobs with great benefits are not available, then ask yourself why should a taxpayer funded employer offer you more than what is readily available elsewhere.

Bus drivers and attendants who chose their part time job for reasons other than great benefits like health insurance will continue being employed along with the all the new bus drivers and attendants who chose their part time job for reasons other than the great benefits.

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