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School Board blinks first in budget battle with supervisors

Loudoun County School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger gave the first public indication March 8 that Loudoun County Public Schools will be able to make do next year without full funding from the Board of Supervisors.

"I think we can do a $10 million reduction of our request – I understand that's an increase [from the current fiscal year],” Hornberger said. “Ten million dollars, you could do that without it majorly affecting, in my opinion, the salary issue or the class-size issue.”

Hornberger said any cut beyond that $10 million mark would lead him to challenge the Board of Supervisors to examine “what we are here for.”

The School Board chairman's comments came during a joint budget work session between the School Board and Board of Supervisors. Absent from the meeting were Supervisors Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) and Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) and School Board members Debbie Rose (Algonkian), Jennifer Bergel (Catoctin) and Brenda Sheridan (Sterling).

The discussion came as supervisors are weighing how much funding to allocate to LCPS, which has adopted a $950 million budget for fiscal 2015. That LCPS budget figure leaves a nearly $40 million allocation shortfall from the county at the equalized tax rate.

Similar to Hornberger's remarks, School Board member Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run) said the school system will be able to survive without full funding.

“I'm not one to say that you have to fully fund the budget. The sky is not falling if you don't fully fund the budget,” Kuesters said.

During the nearly three-hour meeting, teacher compensation, an enhanced pay scale and technology upgrades dominated the conversation between the two bodies.

School Board member Jeff Morse reasoned that the adopted LCPS budget “is an attempt for us to make up ground that we've lost in the last two years.”

“There are some interval steps that need to be taken and some investments that need to be made,” Morse said.

As the dialogue moved along, supervisors took School Board members to task on their proposed spending.

Looking for ways to trim the schools' budget, supervisors asked whether it would be possible for LCPS to gradually phase in the new salary scale, drawn up to make local teacher pay more competitive with surrounding districts. Nearly $30 million of the School Board's more than $105 million requested increase relates to teacher pay raises and the new pay scale.

School Board members were largely unresponsive to the suggestion of gradual pay reform. In order to make LCPS staff compensation commensurate with surrounding jurisdictions, they said, the new plan needs to be implemented at once.

LCPS has also budgeted nearly $38 million for next year's student and staff growth – this in addition to the new pay scale.

The school system is expected to welcome nearly 2,375 new students next year and open three new schools.

On the technology front, the School Board chairman said increasing bandwidth for cutting-edge tech initiatives is a top priority, especially to make up for years of infrastructure neglect.

LCPS is seeking approximately $14 million for technology upgrades.

The school system is requesting heightened funding from an all-Republican Board of Supervisors determined to keep the county's property tax rate steady – something supervisors say is necessary to lure new business and expand the commercial tax base.

Three days before the joint meeting, a couple supervisors questioned how much energy the School Board expended trying to find cost-savings while developing the LCPS spending plan.

“They have not prioritized,” Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said during a March 6 meeting. “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.'”

Even without an increase in the county's property tax rate, the school system will receive a nearly $68 million increase in fiscal 2015 compared to the current year because of growing county revenue, supervisors have repeatedly highlighted.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to finalize the fiscal 2015 county budget and the LCPS appropriation in early April.

As an aside during the March 8 conversation, Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) urged School Board members to fund a staff assistant position for themselves, similar to each supervisor's legislative aide.

“You can't find $50,000, $70,000 in your budget to give yourself a staff member?” Letourneau asked.

“I don't want to keep hearing from the School Board that 'we don't have staff,' and a bunch of you have said it to us over time very longingly at the staff we have. Make the investment, it'll pay for itself over time,” he said.

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The chairman of the School Board, Eric Hornberger, does not (for obvious reasons) post comments on blogs or articles, however, this article deserves this clarification from his perspective. I am quoting from his post yesterday on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Vote-Eric-Hornberger/202249939805781):

The chairman of the School Board, Eric Hornberger, does not (for obvious reasons) post comments on blogs or articles, however, this article deserves this clarification from his perspective. I am quoting from a post he made on his Facebook page

“I have received comments from several people expressing frustration over the slant of that latest LTM article (see link below). Some have questioned the basis of the quotes attributed to me in that article. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to comment on it.

“Like many of you, I was also disappointed in the slant of the article. The gross misrepresentation of the broader context of the quotes, combined with the fact that the article failed to accurately capture the spirit of the meeting, is truly unfortunate. This results when reporters only review the webcast after the event, rather than attend in person, and have limited background knowledge to better inform their reporting.

“Let me be clear in saying that I completely support a fully funded budget. The School Board’s support for its budget and knowledge of it was evident during that meeting to all who were there. Unfortunately, the LTM reporter was not one of those people.

“The context of those ‘cherry picked’ quotes in the LTM article was in response to the BOS desire for the School Board to indicate what would be cut if their funding was $40 million less than our proposed needs-based budget. My comments were meant to evidence that each Board member will have his/her own perspective, depending on the funding level actually provided by the BOS, short of our full request. The School Board as a whole would not be able to provide such a list until it goes through the reconciliation process, involving input from the public and our staff. While I voted in favor of a fully funded budget, I indicated at the work session on Saturday that a shortfall in funding of anything greater than roughly $10 million would result in significant cuts in areas considered very important to the community and therefore our overall level of service.

“Unfortunately, the LTM article chose to imply through a selective use of quotes outside of their context that I voluntarily offered to cut $10 million or that somehow $10 million of the School Board’s request was not really needed. That simply is not true. Anyone who actually attended the work session, or earnestly watched the webcast, would have heard that in order to preserve the Board’s clear priorities, I indicated that reductions would likely have to be first made in some existing programs (FLES/SAMS), closing the small schools, postponing new enhancements in technology (BYOD and standardized 1:1) and programming (FDK), and further delaying needed bus replacements. I indicated that in my estimation reductions in these areas would likely get close to that $10 million level, if that were ultimately required. To reiterate, these are NOT things that I would ‘want’ to cut (or I would have already proposed cutting them). Rather, I feel that these are the types of reductions that would need to be made in order to not significantly impact our overall educational mandate or mission and still enable the Board to pursue its highest priorities of providing competitive compensation and maintaining or reducing class-sizes, at least according to this School Board member.

“A reduction in funding beyond the $10 million level from our request, in my opinion, would greatly harm our educational mission. It would necessitate a serious conversation within the School Board about priorities in light of our primary educational mandate. In that discussion, I would use the areas articulated within the Standards of Quality (SOQs) put forth by the state to help define that mission. Focusing on that educational mission then could lead us to make reductions in our current level of service in areas that are not directly related to that mission (outside of SOQs or other regulations). These would include areas such as transportation, athletics and other co-curricular activities - which, while not core to that mission, are still strong expectations within our community and widely enjoyed in other surrounding jurisdictions. In my opinion, failing to provide competitive compensation or at least maintaining current class-sizes are a key parts of our core educational mission.

“In the end, I believe that the members of the BOS fully understood my point, since they were there. They know that a $10 million reduction of our request still only leaves us near the current tax rate, not the equalized tax rate that they strongly desire to implement. Funding at the equalized tax rate would require significant reductions in our proposed budget, and therefore a significant impact on our level of service. We need to be able to have a genuine conversation as policy-makers over what is at stake in the budget process. There are competing priorities both for the Board of Supervisors and School Board and within both of them. This should not be a contest as a “blink” might imply but rather a process of both Boards trying to find the best means of meeting the short and long-term needs of the community that both bodies serve.

“I hope that this helps explain what was communicated in the actual conversation, and illuminates what was not well conveyed in the shortsighted LTM article with an overly sensationalized title. These are not easy topics to reduce to a sound-byte or accurately convey in a short quote. However, if reduced to a sound-byte, my message would be that the School Board’s proposed budget is completely needs based, and without full funding the community will feel the loss. Should it? Ultimately, that is for the Board of Supervisors to determine.

“Thank you for an opportunity to elaborate a bit further.”

[Any errors in transcription are mine. Used with permission, though it was entirely my idea to post this here. -rdj]

Not up to a challenge I see. Did you forget to read the “one example” part. Too hot to handle yet he voted. I don’t agree with his vote or your assessment about his chances to be re-elected. If you need further examples look up the BoS and view some of their meeting archives. I fear for your well being as you seem to becoming aligned with the John Flannery’s and Stevens Millers of the world. seeing as how Ken Reid is only 1/9 of the board there must be other’s who vote on the school budget and yes it does take a majority to pass the budget. Too hot you say, I think you have burned the candle at both ends and are now toasted.

Oh, how I love challenges.  Hopefully the webmaster will let me respond.  THE SILVER LINE! REALLY!  That is your defense for Ken Reid.  The vote that will lead to Ken Reid losing the republican nomination!  You want to bring that up! Wow.  I guess the saying is true:  Sometimes your friends are your worst enemies.  Ken Reid’s vote on the Silver Line is not a badge of honor.  Not when, as had been reported, Ken Reid took money from a person opposed to the rail extension, waits until that person dies, and then votes for the Silver Line.  Wait!  What did I just say?  Ken Reid “waits until?”  Gee, doesn’t this sound just like the guy who hides from tough meetings on funding our public schools?  I hope any promises to our school children made by Ken Reid does not follow the same course as with the Silver Line opponent.

Selective hindsight, leading from behind or the lead behind you have it covered. One example of Reid being in the hot stove league was when he was the deciding vote for the Silver line but that does not count for you does it. Have you looked at his votes at all? This is more hyperbole?

Hi all, I’ve been working like a dog, so sorry about any delays.  BUT, again, oranges869, the article points out that Ken Reid, who apparently does not like hot kitchens, dodged an important meeting.  So, what were his friends on the board of supervisors or the school board members to do, call him up on his phone, since he refused to come to the meeting?  Maybe in your world that is how an elected official is to act - call me any time Ken Reid did what he has always done in the past, hide when the topic is too hot to handle.

I believe that when Bob made his error he was really thinking about Laugh. I don’t know about dodge ball and even though I do not always appreciate the votes by Ken Reid he is easy to get in touch with. Besides the BoS e-mail you could have given him a call he is also on Facebook and is quick to reply to queries.

And add in all the time the school board members put into charter school for 44 students at Middleburg Elementary school. They could easily cut out the fat. No need for 3 deans at each MS(does Loudoun have that many bad kids in MS)... Close down the small schools. Oh, and if the School Board isn’t going to put in the time, then resign. Nobody asked you to run for school board office. It’s all about your egos….Get over it.

make due?

Hey, let’s try slicing off small parts here and there. A little adds up to a lot, ya know.

- In a previous article, I saw that the school board wanted teachers to bring their own laptops to work. In exchange, they would be reimbursed up to $500. How about cut it down to $475? Or even $450? Even at only $25 in savings per staff member, multiply that by the hundreds of employees in the system. I know it seems like pennies compared to the huge budget, but it’ll pay for some other little expense.

- HVAC needs some major changes, and it’ll also save money. Problem: in school, I am wearing sweaters when the a/c is running and t-shirts when the heat is on. When I took the SAT in a LCPS high school recently, I felt like a roasting pig in just a sweater. If you ask other students in LCPS, you will get the same response from a good chunk of them. How about lowering the heating trigger temperature by 2 degrees and raising the a/c trigger yemperature by 2 degrees? Why on earth does the county control the HVAC settings for all the schools anyway?

Two thoughts…one this is not a game where someone “blinks” and loses. We are discussing next year’s and future education in our county. Second, “majorly” is a complete abomination as used in comment by Hornberger. At best, it is a slang usage.  Maybe he needs to return to public school to refresh his skills.

Ah, my good friend oranges869.  Gee, thanks for letting me know that Ken Reid, dodge-ball player of the year, had a “legitimate” reason for not being there.  And I am also pleased to see that you have made proposals to the budget, unlike Ken Reid, who, is up to his old tricks of dodging the hot issues, and hides so well.  For Ken Reid, it is “stay out of the kitchen.”

Glad Oranges completed his Twaddle correctly unlike Bob Fitzimmons on Facebook!  “Laugh” is just Kristen Umstattd’s hit man so he picks on any one he perceives as an ‘opponent’ of hers.

All these people had legitimate reasons for not attending if Laugh would of done his homework he would of known that but then that would ruin a reason to twaddle on.
Last year the county picked up the 5% increase into the VRS that LCPS employees has to pay and complained because they were responsible for the taxes on that amount. Cost of living tied to the inflation rate with merit increases for deserving teachers… There should be a 2.5% VRS payment made by the teachers… this year not covered by the county. Time to start covering some of the unfunded debt by the people who will benefit from it.

I see that Ken Reid is up to his old tricks again.  I think by now it is pretty clear that when there is a too hot to handle issue, Ken Reid is absent.  Ken Reid pulled the same thing while he was on the Leesburg Town Council, and clearly is doing it on the Board of Supervisors.

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