Loudoun County supervisors were none too pleased to receive a letter yesterday from School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger telling them the School Board will not respond to the supervisors' request for more-detailed information about the Loudoun County Public Schools adopted budget.
Hornberger's letter, which supervisors derided during a Wednesday night meeting, adds extra hostility between the two governing bodies three days before they're scheduled to meet to discuss the school system's fiscal 2015 budget.
The letter also questions whether the Board of Supervisors has the statutory authority to ask for “information about what programmatic needs and requirements could be fulfilled or not fulfilled within the funding provided to the schools under the county administrator's proposal” – verbiage lifted from a February request from Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) to the School Board.
In his ire-raising reply, Hornberger said the LCPS budget is what his board believes is “needed to move [LCPS] forward.”
“Requesting a 'cut list' implies that the budget duly proposed does not really reflect our true needs for our school division,” Hornberger's letter states. “Rather, that the School Board proposed budget represents funding levels in excess of our needs – which is not the case.”
Earlier this year the School Board adopted a $950 million budget, which leaves a nearly $40 million gap between the school system's budget and county appropriations within the county administrator's proposed spending plan.
In his letter, Hornberger continued, “Complying with your request could be misconstrued as tacit authorization of a line-item veto to the Board of Supervisors without our proposed budget, which is in conflict with the roles of the two bodies set forth in the Code of Virginia.”
“There is no requirement, nor precedent, that we cut our needs-based budget prior to the Board of Supervisors determination of the the funding level it is willing to appropriate to meet our request,” the School Board chairman noted. “While we understand your desire for us to do so to better enable you to meet your own budgetary goals, we feel it would be inappropriate for us to do so given our responsibility to represent the needs of the school system ...”
Appearing irritated, supervisors on Wednesday said they aren't interested in going through the LCPS budget line by line. Instead, Board of Supervisors members said they just want a greater understanding of the School Board's priorities.
Moreover, supervisors claimed they're not seeking a 'cut list.'
“Our word was prioritize. Their words are 'cut list,'” Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said. “They have not prioritized. They only held four budget work sessions. One School Board member, who I'll keep anonymous, told me, 'we were too worn out from the redistricting process and looking for a new superintendent [than] to spend the time on the budget.'”
Buona and Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) said the Board of Supervisors, as the county's appropriating body, has the right to ask questions about how the money will be spent.
“I don't believe [School Board members] know their priorities,” Buona said, adding he believes there are “excuses” in the LCPS budget. “I hope they will govern … and governing doesn't mean hiding behind a fictitious constitutional excuse.”
County Attorney Jack Roberts agreed with his bosses, the supervisors, on the matter of Virginia law.
“There is explicit authority for you to ask for information that you deem advisable in the budget process from any board, commission, agency that gets money appropriated to it,” Roberts said in response to a question from Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles).