Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Edgar Hatrick on Dec. 4 presented his $876.4 million operating budget for fiscal 2014.
The system is asking for a funding increase of $53.3 million or 6 percent compared to last year’s budget of $823.1 million.
The proposed budget is “needs based” and was developed without consideration of factors outside the school system, including the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors’ estimated $55.9 million gap in funding.
About half of that growth comes from an additional 2,566 students, costing the school system about $26.8 million more, mostly to add staff with the opening of two elementary schools, Moorefield Station and Discovery, according to LCPS spokesman Wayde Byard.
“We were able to contain costs during the recession,” Hatrick said. “We cannot continue to absorb the cost of new students indefinitely.”
A placeholder amount of $12 million is left for employee compensation, pending the results of a salary study. Byard said the number estimated was $2 million less than the amount in the last fiscal budget.
The $8.2 million is allotted to refresh all lab and AV computers in 47 schools and begin a one to one ratio of computers to teachers in those schools.
Group health insurance is expected to increase by $5.3 million and a mandatory increase of $1 million must be paid by the school system into the Virginia Retirement System.
Hatrick told the board that the budget contains no new programs, no program reductions or expansions.
“I wish this budget could be one of new initiatives and expansion,” Hatrick said. “But the economy does not allow for that kind of improvement and a growing student population.”
To fund the $53.3 million increase, Hatrick is asking for $45.8 million more from Loudoun County, $6.6 million more from Virginia and an additional $200,000 in federal funding.
About $700,000 is expected to come from other sources, including Advanced Placement, athletic and building use fees, according to Hatrick.
Hatrick said the budget gap would threaten the school system’s ability to keep class sizes low.
“Were the gap to be real, I don’t believe you could have a second successful year of dealing with the issue of class size, it’s just too big,” Hatrick said.
Hatrick said he was concerned about increasing class sizes in elementary school.
School Board member Bill Fox (Leesburg), questioned the growth of cost-per-pupil, saying it seemed to unnecessarily outpace last year’s growth.
“You add the costs to that associated with opening two new schools,” Hatrick said. “There are extra costs every time you open a new school. Some staff move with children, but some staff are new to the system.”
Fox didn’t seem totally convinced that new school construction accounted for the increase this year, citing that new schools, John Champe High School and Frederick Douglass Elementary School, opened with a less cost-per-pupil (CPP) increase.
He said he was more concerned that CPP continued to go up with no new programs added in the school system.
CPP measures the amount of county budget spent per student. It increased $581 from $11,014 to $11,595 in the fiscal 2013 budget, or 5.1 percent.
It would increase $675 from $11,595 to $12,270, or 5.6 percent in Hatrick’s proposed budget.
Hatrick said the increase could be cut down if the School Board declined to appropriate money for new computers or textbooks, or if the School Board cut programs.
“I think it would be easy enough to give a list of why the cost-per-pupil goes up,” Hatrick said.
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