After bad weather delayed the adoption one day, the Loudoun County School Board adopted a fiscal 2015 school operating budget Feb. 5 of just over $949 million.
Overall, the School Board reduced the operating budget proposed by Superintendent Ed Hatrick by approximately $2.69 million.
Earlier in the day, County Administrator Tim Hemstreet had proposed a county budget that featured a gap of $40 million between the county and what the school board would like.
Adjustments to the proposed budgets were made in key areas School Board members hoped to address including a reduction in class sizes, a payroll boost for employees and adjustments to the 1 to 1 initiative.
Remarkably, the first two amendments to the proposed budget at the beginning of the night increased the budget, which was pointed out by School Board member Bill Fox (Leesburg).
The first amendment increased the budget at a cost of $895,854 for full day kindergarten to Title 1 eligible schools Middleburg, Forest Grove, Sterling, Meadowland and Frederick Douglass Elementary Schools.
The change will benefit 303 students in addition to the more than 500 students LCPS has currently.
Next, the School Board approved a reduction in average elementary class sizes from 24 to 23 students with a unanimous vote.
A reduction in class sizes means an addition of 33 elementary teaching positions and an offset reduction of 19 FTE elementary teacher’s assistant positions increasing the budget by $2.06 million.
“We determined that if 30 additional classroom teachers were added, that is the level we would need in order to have a full reduction of elementary class size based on our current fiscal 2014 levels,” Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said. “The extra three positions are for one addition in staffing in music, P.E. and Art which goes along with the increased number of classrooms.””
Class sizes was a major priority of the budget process for the school board as the public wanted a reduction in class sizes for its children.
“This appeals to my consituents in Leesburg, particularly those at Catoctin Elementary School,” Fox said. “This has been a goal of ours since we came on the Board and it makes a difference in the quality of education by putting money into the classroom where it belongs.”
After several years of receiving no salary boosts for school employees, the Board approved a pay scale that saves $3 million from Hatrick's proposed pay scale and still accomplishes what Hatrick wanted.
Hornberger designed the plan focusing his attention on the disturbing salary differences Loudoun had from other nearby school systems.
“I merely tried to correct and bring consistency to the scale. My starting goal was not cost savings although the fact that it has some is great,” Hornberger said.
Hornberger's plan significantly improves the 'sag' that exists within the lower half of the various salary schedules. It also improves the competitiveness of salaries to surrounding jurisdictions by reducing the 'gap' in salaries.
Two major technology initiatives were funded as well.
Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) motioned to expand the current pilot program at Eagle Ridge Middle School to include the whole school and also incorporate it into Sterling Middle School.
Expanding the pilot program will cost $616,000 and help to prepare the county as they begin preliminary steps to developing a proper 1 to 1 initiative long term.
Also, the School Board approved an alternative to Hatrick's proposed 1 to 1 technology initiative, instead adding $1.5 million to the operating budget with the purpose reimbursing up to $500 per teacher for approved personal computer purchases with the intent of initiating a bring your own device program.
“We have an interest to provide a credit to our teachers for computer purchases they make. This is an alternative method to the 1 to 1 rollout,” Hornberger said. “Schools are already moving ahead of us in terms of grants they have received and other support to purchase computers. Fairfax provides this in some form for their teachers already as well. This is a way forward and begins the process of looking at a real pilot for teachers to bring their own devices to school.”
Jeff Morse (Dulles) wanted to make sure teachers receiving computers from the grants and other avenues are obviously excluded from this plan.
“We can get as many devices in as many hands as possible,” Morse said. “This is great for the county and its teachers as well. It reduces the operations and maintenance tail for us as the devices are owned by the individuals and individuals can select devices they are comfortable with.”
During the process, the School Board also cut $2.1 million from the Department of Technology Services Operating and Maintenance Budget, removed 31 proposed new staffing positions for a cost savings of $1.99 million and a reduction of new vehicles to save $1.03 million.
The School Board will now send their adopted budget to the Board of Supervisors, which will review it and make a decision on whether or not to send it back for more cuts.
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