Superintendent makes case for $1.1 billion budget to supervisors
LCPS Superintendent Eric Williams laid out the school system’s needs for the upcoming year in what will likely be its only operations co-meeting with supervisors before the county budget is adopted.
The meeting came as LCPS and county government are grappling with growth, development and school overcrowding.
Both entities are in the midst of trying to match their budgets to keep up with more residents, while at the same time a need for more employees and paying them in line with surrounding jurisdictions.
Williams said LCPS is seeing “continued and persistent enrollment growth” of around 3 or 4 percent, or about 3,000 students. The coming year's budget accounts for more than 300 new positions.
The superintendent outlined four key areas where LCPS needs the most support.
The most critical was enrollment growth. With new schools coming online, Williams said they would need to hire new teachers and staff.
He also explained that with higher enrollment numbers, LCPS has seen a “greater rate of growth among certain groups of students,” including English language learners, low income and special education students, which, in turn, drive up costs for more teachers and aides.
Salaries and benefits was another key component of LCPS’ budget. Williams talked about the need to hire quality teachers with high level degrees and be able to pay them accordingly.
The superintendent said often times LCPS loses highly qualified teachers to neighboring counties like Fairfax and Prince William that offer higher salaries. He also said the school system needed to increase hours and pay for its bus drivers.
Additionally, Williams stressed the need for enhancements, restorations and reallocations of funds, particularly for new positions that would work on mental health support as well as operations and maintenance expenditures.
But with competing needs in mind, supervisors questioned the school administration’s costs.
The board’s finance committee chiarman, Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), said that county government is also facing issues around salaries and compensation.
“While the school system has been improving, the county employees really haven’t, and so I think many of us on our side are pretty concerned about that,” Letourneau said.
The Dulles supervisor noted that 77 percent of LCPS employees are able to live in Loudoun, while only 29 percent of fire and rescue employees can afford to do so.
“That’s something we’re going to have a to address on our side, which could certainly have an impact on the school budgets in future years as we address the same type of critical need and turnover rates and things like that that you all are saying,” Letourneau said.
Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) said she has spoken to teachers who have voiced concern about the lack of textbooks and sufficient copy machines to essentially make their own textbooks.
She pressed the School Board on whether its budget would take care of those issues.
Williams said LCPS would likely only be able to provide more copiers and not textbooks. The superintendent said getting more textbooks would be part of a “multi-year process.”
Last week, County Administrator Tim Hemstreet proposed a $2.5 billion county budget for fiscal 2018, a spending plan based on the board’s guidance to present a budget at the estimated equalized real property tax rate of $1.135 per $100 in assessed value.
In that budget, the gap between the school system’s budget request and projected county funds stands at about $3.5 million short of the school system’s ask -- the smallest it has been in years. The school systems is relying on an allocation of nearly $760 million in county funds from the Board of Supervisors.
The Board of Supervisors will hold three public hearings on the proposed fiscal 2018 budget: Feb. 28 at 6 p.m., Board Room, Loudoun County Government Center, 1 Harrison Street, S.E., Leesburg; March 2 at 3 p.m., Board Room, Loudoun County Government Center; and March 4, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., Loudoun County Public Schools Administration Building, 21000 Education Court, Ashburn.
Supervisors are expected to finalize the budget in early April.
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