Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Edgar B. Hatrick III got it exactly right when he said Loudoun’s schools are at a “tipping point.” Enrollment is swelling amid the commercial and residential growth of the county. Costs are rising as our educational system is being transformed by what is known as 21st Century Learning.
The integration of an array of technologies is moving into all aspects of education. Multi-million dollar learning management systems are now required to manage the connected pieces of a complex educational ecosystem.
For teachers, the change is transformational. Vital skills are required to develop young minds for a connected, always-on society. Technologies in the classroom and at home can be confusing to manage, but the confusion is worth it; our children have unprecedented access to knowledge and learning as they move through all aspects of our culture. They have a native instinct for the devices, programs and apps that are so much apart of their lives, as well as ours.
Sadly, the debate over the school budget impacts one of our most valuable resources, teachers. They are the collateral damage of a pay “sag” that forces them to seek better paying jobs in neighboring counties.
Dr. Hatrick has the luxury of being forthcoming. He’s retiring after 22 years leading the district. He’s submitted a $953 million budget that sets the stage for a difficult battle with county supervisors who have shown no interest in even a slight hike in the county's property tax rate, a prospect that would leave a funding gap of more than $56 million for county schools. With a new revenue projection from the county, the gap has shrunk from the massive $84 million it was earlier in the process. The supervisors, all Republicans, seem intent on upholding campaign promises of fiscal responsibility and lower property taxes.
We are advocates of both efficiency and cost-management. If there is bloat in the budget, take it out. But don’t put it on the backs of teachers.
As for technology, enlightened managers use it to crush costs, not raise them. Society uses it to expand knowledge, not limit it.
Unfortunately, our elected leaders have cast the issue of funding our schools as a political decision. They ought to consider it as one about teaching and learning. Let’s build a lesson plan around this real-life proposition: How do we, as responsible citizens, exercise clear-sighted judgment that balances spending with an invaluable asset in our community?
In answering that question, we should not have to explain to our children why a talented, caring teacher has to look elsewhere for a job. Or why students who are hungry to learn settle for pencils and paper in their classrooms when more engaging educational tools are everywhere around them.
“Good people cost money,” Dr. Hatrick says. So does good technology. Both are prudent investments for our schools. In the long run, both raise the value of education by providing a substantial return-on-investment: a capable generation empowered to solve any problem, a generation that can apply the skills, talents and capabilities they acquire in their home county to make their lives better.
Dr. Hatrick’s budget seeks an increase of $32 million in compensation to attract and retain talented teachers who might otherwise be lured to school systems that offer better salaries. The budget also seeks an additional $13 million for system-wide technology upgrades, including computer maintenance, new software and communications equipment.
These investments strike us as appropriate, necessary and responsible given the escalating costs of education and technology in a highly educated community with high expectations for their children.
Supervisors should honor Dr. Hatrick’s service, his judgment and his vision for the future by approving his budget. Even if it takes a modest increase in the tax rate to pay for it.