A March 4 meeting between Loudoun's Board of Supervisors and the School Board to address fiscal 2014 budget concerns could be described as a cordial game of tug-of-war.
Members of the School Board highlighted the district's growing classrooms and need for more local funding to remain competitive in terms of teacher pay and personnel. The schools' representatives also noted a slew of cost-saving measures Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) has implemented over the past year.
Supervisors, who praised the schools for enacting some belt-tightening, still pushed for more drops in LCPS expenditures.
Moreover, supervisors urged the school leaders to cooperate with county officials and the Government Reform Commission to examine and search out shared services opportunities – such as construction, capital planning and supply purchasing – that could save taxpayers money.
The meeting was the first budget work session for the full Board of Supervisors, this following three public hearings held in late February and early March on the county's proposed $1.8 billion county budget.
The current advertised property tax rate rests at $1.23 per $100 in assessed value, down just slightly from the current fiscal year.
LCPS, which is expected to welcome 2,500 new students next school year and open two new high schools, is still looking for an additional $15 million funding allocation from the county, an amount that recently shrunk after Loudoun schools learned they'd be receiving an additional $2 million from the state.
The school system's overall adopted budget came in at nearly $860 million in January.
LCPS has implemented cost-saving reforms through modifications to employee eligibility for the Virginia Retirement System, Other Post-Employment Benefits and health care coverage.
But the School Board is still pushing for a nearly 5 percent increase in local funding from fiscal 2013 – money needed to maintain the county's strong public education system, notably to keep and recruit the top-notch educators.
The Board of Supervisors has yet to give any indication it's willing to shell out the additional $15 million requested by the school system.
During the budget session, Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) pointedly said there's no guarantee the Board of Supervisors will maintain the advertised $1.23 rate. Given that's been advertised figure, that is the maximum the board can adopt by the first week of April, Buona said.
“Board's almost always don't end up at the maximum that they advertise,” Buona said, pointing out that the current rate of $1.23 will end up being a tax hike given property assessments in the county have mostly increased over the past year.
“Some people say that's fine. But there are many people saying, 'Help, I'm going to lose my job to sequestration' ... 'I just lost money to the federal government on Jan. 1 when they took away the FICA tax breaks,'” Buona said.
The chair of the Board of Supervisors finance committee, Buona stressed the numerous departments and projects the county has to fund.
“Not only do we have to balance schools, we have to balance public safety, we have to balance safety in the schools, we have fire and rescue stations to build, sheriff's stations to build, schools to build ….” said the Ashburn supervisor.
Local teachers and school advocates have made claims the Board of Supervisors has cut school funding. Buona said that couldn't be further from the truth.
“We have raised the school budget. Last year we raised by I think [$66 million], but the initial superintendent request was $86 million,” he said.
No final decisions were made March 4 on the local schools' allocation. Supervisors must finalize the LCPS funding by the early April deadline.
Fiscal 2014 runs from July 2013 through June 2014. The county's tax rate was $1.235 in fiscal 2013 and $1.285 in 2012.
Supervisors will hold their next budget work session at 6 p.m. March 7.