Loudoun parents urge board to fully fund LCPS; supervisors wary of tax hike
Loudoun's Board of Supervisors has yet to receive a fiscal 2015 budget from Loudoun County Public Schools for funding consideration, yet high expectations have been set and a perilous future predicted by local parents fed up with what they believe are under-funded schools.
Given the financial realities of the county – including increased home values and an all-Republican board that's hell-bent on keeping property taxes level – those parents should be prepared for their hopes of a cash-infused school system to be dashed.
The 2015 budget proposed by Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Edgar Hatrick in early January came in at $952 million, a spending plan expected to leave a nearly $60 million shortfall from the county allocation, according to the most recent revenue projections.
If the county's supervisors were to sign off on full funding for Dr. Hatrick's budget, the local tax rate would have to be set at $1.23 per $100 in assessed home value, according to Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), chairman of the board's finance committee.
A $1.23 rate seems extraordinarily unlikely from the all-Republican board, especially considering the current year's rate of $1.205 per $100.
Moreover, just to keep taxes steady – to hit the “equalized” rate – the county will have to drop to a rate of $1.155 based on current projections, Buona said.
Dr. Hatrick's budget each year is typically a starting point for the Loudoun County School Board, which then adjusts and finalizes the document and then sends it to the Board of Supervisors.
The School Board is expected to finalize the LCPS budget by the end of January. Supervisors will then scrutinize the plan and determine how much local funding the county will allocate to the schools. That amount won't likely be finalized until March, or early April at the latest.
Comments from supervisors during a Jan. 15 business meeting were less than accommodating to Dr. Hatrick and education advocates' requests.
Supervisor Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run), the Board of Supervisors' vice chairman, was outspoken in defending his board's support for public schools.
“When I hear that we're cutting education, it is just not true,” Williams said. “I understand that we're not fully funding Dr. Hatrick's budget, but I don't think Dr. Hatrick would fund Dr. Hatrick's budget, frankly.”
According to Williams, in the past two budget years the LCPS budget has increased from nearly $746 million to $843.5 million. The local fund transfer from the county has spiked from $494 million to more than $553.5 million, a 12 percent increase.
“While it is true that a large portion of these budget increases was due to enrollment growth, the cost-per-pupil still rose from $11,014 to $11,638, a 5.7 percent increase,” Williams noted.
But Dr. Hatrick and dozens of other school proponents were quick to say those investments have been inadequate.
“Critical technological infrastructure and county and school employees have borne the brunt of budget decisions that focused primarily on tax rate,” said Dr. Hatrick.
Aimee Holloway, a 15-year Loudoun resident, mother and teacher assistant at LCPS, was one of several speakers who asked supervisors Jan. 15 to raise taxes.
“I want to ask you to raise the tax rate. Please fully fund our school system,” Ms. Holloway said. “… out of the six surrounding counties, the amount we spend per pupil, there's only one other county that's lower than ours. We're the wealthiest county in the nation – how is it that we're not spending more money on our children? They are our future.”
Still, several supervisors expressed their reluctance at full funding for LCPS.
“I don't know where you want us to go with taxes,” Supervisors Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) said following the flood of public comments Jan. 15. “We already have the highest taxes in Virginia.”
Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian), meanwhile, implied the School Board hasn't made teacher pay a top priority.
“When we gave an additional $66 million to the schools, and it was clearly outlined that they needed $31 million to open the three new schools, it was amazing how nobody on the schools' side seemed to think about giving the teachers and other staff a raise out of the other $35 million,” Ms. Volpe said.
Related: Editorial: A teaching and learning moment for the future of Loudoun schools