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    Hatrick proposes school budget, difficult road ahead

    In front of a room full of community members Jan. 7, Loudoun County Public School's Superintendent Ed Hatrick delivered his last budget proposal as superintendent to the School Board.

    Hatrick proposed a total school budget of $952.42 million.

    Under his spending plan, increases in expenditures are projected at $108.7 million with revenue increases projected to be $87.5 million from the county, $20.3 million from the state, federal funding increased by about $400,000 and a increase from fees at another $500,000.

    In November, Hatrick, along with Leigh Burden, assistant superintendent for business and financial services, presented a memo to School Board members about some challenges the school system may see financially in fiscal 2015.

    In mid-December, Hatrick published a letter again outlining concerns about funding.

    He forecast Jan. 7 that if the schools are not properly funded a number of full-time equivalent positions could be eliminated.

    “The fiscal 2015 Superintendent's Proposed Budget has a gap in local funding of $84.5 million compared to the best case preliminary estimate of local funding by the county, which shows the increase in local funding to LCPS at $3 million,” Hatrick said. “Should it be decided that funding the schools is not possible, the staffing in LCPS schools that is not mandated by the Commonwealth could be eliminated.”

    Hatrick outlined an elimination of almost 624 positions in elementary schools, 153 in middle schools and 73 positions in high schools for a total savings of more than $63 million. That number would still leave a significant gap to make up.

    Those jobs included technology-related positions, special education positions, librarians, teachers, administrators and other personnel.

    “My role as superintendent is to establish a needs-based budget that identifies what is needed now to ensure the future of our young people,” Hatrick said. “The primary fiscal 2015 budget changes can be attributed to compensation, student growth and technology.”

    According to Hatrick's proposal, those three changes account for $80.7 million of a total $108.7 million in proposed expenditure changes alone.

    Of that total, employee compensation accounts for $31.9 million. Hatrick went on to say that almost 90 percent of the budget goes to funding salaries and benefits.

    Hatrick compared the salaries of neighboring school districts for teachers with Masters Degrees.

    “We all start out in about the same place, but we lose ground quickly from the second year on and do not compare favorably. In some cases, Fairfax pays as much as $6,000 to $7,000 more than we do for the same experience level,” Hatrick said. “This hurts LCPS in recruiting experienced teachers. We have wanted to address the 'sag' for a couple of years now, but haven't had the resources to do so.”

    To provide an example, Hatrick mentioned that Loudoun pays a teacher with nine years of experience a little more than $3,000 more per year than a first year teacher. At nine years, Loudoun has the lowest teacher's pay in the 10 jurisdictions making up the D.C. Metro area.

    “Compensation is a division-wide priority in this years budget,” Hatrick said.

    As a result, Hatrick proposed a new salary scale for teachers and administrators making salaries competitive, affordable and sustainable, he said.

    Issues were found last year with the salary scale when an Evergreen consultant made a full-parity proposal with a price-tag of $54 million. Hatrick's proposed pay scale increase should cost $32 million in its first year.

    The new teacher, classified and administrative salary scale keeps steps 1-3 flat with a 5 percent increase in step 4.

    A projected enrollment next school year of more than 73,200 students shows a growth increase of 29 percent or 16,000 students over the last seven years.

    “New students mean more school buildings and the number of school buildings during this time period has gone from 75 to 87,” Hatrick said.

    Technological discrepancies have been a major vocal point over the last several months.

    Hatrick said, “The reduction of technology funding over the past few years has resulted in an increase in tech funding in fiscal 2015 of $13.1 million.”

    The increase can be tied to an update in computer maintenance, a computer refresh for 47 schools, an upgrade in bandwidth and network equipment, software upgrades and a completion of bus radio replacement and initiation of a safety radio in 17 schools.

    Hatrick also hopes to issue a bond referendum in November 2014 to address the 1-to-1 initiative.

    “We would provide devices to the teachers at all schools in the first year. Secondary schools in the second year and fourth and fifth graders at the elementary schools in the third year,” Hatrick said. “The total amount of resources needed for full implementation is slightly over $37 million.”

    Hatrick closed his proposal with words of encouragement to all policy makers.

    “The purpose behind it is to best serve the children of Loudoun County. If in the coming weeks we can concentrate on that, then we will arrive at a final budget that is fair to all Loudoun's citizens,” He said. “What I would strive for in the coming deliberations is consensus; the realization that no one will come away with their ideal result.”

    Comments

    Here is the fundamental issue that the Loudoun BoS has failed to address:
    Fairfax (as an example) spends 52.7 % of their total budget on school related expenditures. (Direct school related costs plus interest expense)  Loudoun spends 79.2%.  Loudoun spends nearly twice as much as a percentage on interest expense.  So just raise the tax rate, right?  Well, Loudoun has a tax rate of 1.205%, 12.6% higher than Fairfax. (Loudoun’s real property rate is already the highest in the Commonwealth)
    Every additional dollar that gets allocated to LCPS has to come out of the 20.8% of the budget that funds everything else.  LCPS gets MORE THAN their fair share of the budget pie.
    There are two main reasons for this issue. First, the BoS has done an incredibly poor job at attracting commercial development/office to the County to bolster the tax base.  Look at the Route 28 Improvement District as a prime example.  20 plus years in the making and still very little progress in even revising the Comprehensive Plan and making zoning changes to encourage commercial development. This is a major failure of this and past Boards.  Having the highest real property tax rate in the Commonwealth is a significant impediment to commercial real estate development.  Continuing to approve residential developments that require an ever-increasing amount of resources for schools, fire, police, etc. has been a disaster because we continue to get further behind the appropriate mix of residential/commercial.  (Look what’s on the Board agenda now - two more massive residential development re-zonings, likely to pass with flying colors)  Second, the LCPS has been a poor steward of the funds they have. Here’s a prime example - LCPS will spend more than $100 mm on Riverside High School.  It will be the smallest high school in the County yet the most expensive by far.  We’ll need to borrow $100 million to pay for it.  Everybody knows that LCPS overpaid for land that was unsuitable for a school site which is the primary reason why Riverside High School will cost $100+ million.
    I will be the first person to argue that we need to maintain high quality schools.  However, simply shoveling more money to schools is not the solution. (If more money was the only criteria to “good schools” then Washington DC would have the best school system in the nation)  So what we can we do? Here are my ideas: First, let grow the budget pie by expanding the commercial tax base.  Second, let’s replace the clowns who purport to be working in “economical development” because they’ve been a complete failure.  We need an entirely new model. Third, this BoS should show some leadership and prove that they are part of the solution by implementing a moratorium on rezoning commercial land for residential uses and resolving the Route 28 District Comprehensive Plan fiasco once and for all.  Finally, r whoever paid $25 million for the land   to bail out the National Conference Center to build Riverside High School should be fired. (There should have been a criminal investigation into this transaction). 


    Assuming that teachers want to live near where they teach. I costs a lot more to live in Fairfax County than in Loudoun County. While I’m not sure that this account for the reported $6,000-$7,000 pay disparity, the cost of living has to be factored in.

    My wife and I saw the cost of living difference when we were house hunting. And a primary reason we live in Loudoun is that we got so much more house for our money.

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