MORE: Loudoun School Board adopts $1 billion budget
Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Eric Williams initially pitched the county’s first-ever $1 billion operating budget for fiscal 2017 last month. The $1.07 billion budget is an $86.7 million, or 8.8 percent increase, over fiscal 2016’s budget.
If fully funded by the Board of Supervisors, the budget would cost an additional $58 million in county tax expenditures. The increase in funding covers pressure from enrollment growth, expansion of full-day kindergarten and raising teacher salaries to be more competitive with surrounding counties.
The School Board made some cuts to the proposed budget while adding a few new positions.
Budget amendments, small schools
During budget deliberations, the School Board voted to add several line items that would reinstate positions cut from small western Loudoun schools in previous years.
After listening to input from parents and staff during the public hearing process, the board voted to allocate $270,000 to provide full-time principals for Aldie, Lincoln, Waterford and Banneker elementary schools.
“We’ve heard from the community and staff that it’s absolutely necessary to have a full time principal,” said Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin), before voting in favor of the budget revision. “We need to make sure someone is there to step in front and lead in times of emergencies.”
The amendment passed 8-1, Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) opposing.
The board also voted to reinstate full-time media and technology assistants for the same western Loudoun schools. The amendment passed 8-1, Hornberger opposing. However, Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) and Debbie Rose (Algonkian) hinted they may reconsider the funding during the budget reconciliation process.
Sheridan and Rose also said they may look at closing the small schools during reconciliation if fiscally necessary.
In response to suggestions from the Minority Student Advisory Committee (MSAAC) and criticism from the Loudoun chapter of the NAACP, the board voted to add $122,000 to the budget to hire a personnel specialist that will focus on recruiting a more diverse staff. An additional $40,000 was also added to the budget to pay for diversity personnel consulting services.
“We have a problem and it will reflect poorly on LCPS if we don’t move on it,” said Hornberger “This is a statement that this board can make by bringing people on staff dedicated to fixing this problem.”
Among those opposing the amendment, Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said the board should focus its budget on student achievement.
“We asked for data on how the ethnicity of teachers affects student performance and the report showed it is yet to be fully resolved,” she said. “Until I can see hard evidence this leads to increased student achievement, I can’t support it.”
The motion to add a specialize recruiter carried 6-3, with Turgeon, Marshal (Leesburg) and DeKenipp opposing. The motion for funding for a consultant carried 7-2, with Rose and DeKenipp opposing.
Joy Maloney (Broad Run) introduced a motion to restore five full-time equivalent dean positions that were cut two years ago, so every middle school can have one dean per grade level.
“This is having a direct effect on teachers, students and administrators,” said Maloney. “Let’s go ahead and fix it.”
In order to make room in the budget for the new positions, the board voted to reduce the employee contingency personnel fund by 10 employees, saving $926,000. The funds are earmarked to help meet staffing needs if the school system encounters unexpected growth. Jeff Morse (Dulles) introduced the amendment. He said it is improbable enrollment will grow any higher than the projected nearly 2,000 new students already expected and the extra funding could be used for other programs.
The board also voted to add more parent liaison hours at 17 schools with a high percentage of low-income students, costing $177,000.
A motion made by DeKenipp adds one full-time grant specialist to the staff, costing $127,421.
The budget sets aside $9.5 million to expand full-day kindergarten.
With the additional funding, full-day kindergarten would be offered to 75 percent of all LCPS students. This is a significant increase over the current 35 percent of students offered full-day kindergarten.
The adopted budget invests in recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers. On top of state-mandated 1 percent salary increases for all employees, the proposed budget includes 2.1 percent step salary increase for staff on all pay scales, which would cost about $10.3 million in additional funding.
According to the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) guide, LCPS’s salaries for new teachers ranks third out of eight area school districts. LCPS salaries for mid-career teachers with master’s degrees ranks sixth out of eight nearby counties.
The budget also sets aside $6.7 million for restructuring the teacher salary schedule and $1 million to form a six-year assessment and reclassification process for other employees.
Expansion of employee benefits like more healthcare options, limiting healthcare premiums, Virginia Retirement System (VRS) payments and more funds set aside for workers compensation are included in the proposed budget. The changes to benefits would cost the school about $13.9 million in additional funds.
Academy of Engineering and Technology
The budget includes $1 million to start the Academy of Engineering and Technology program this fall. The program will be eventually be housed in the new Academies of Loudoun building, which is scheduled to open in two years. The new engineering program will focus on cyber security, robotics, bioengineering and biomechanics.
Budget vote and comments
The final budget was adopted with a 7-2 vote, with Turgeon and Rose opposing.
“I can’t support a budget that focuses on one grade level,” said Turgeon, referencing the large portion of funding allocated to FDK.
Rose said while she supports almost all of what’s in the budget, she can’t support it, because the amended version undermines what Williams recommended.
“We were asked to take hard look at budget and make hard choices,” she said. “Instead we’ve added more positions that go beyond a needs-based budget. I think that puts us in a negative light with our counterparts on the other side of the aisle (the Board of Supervisors.)”
The School Board's adopted budget will go forth to the Board of Supervisors to consider in February.
There will be a public hearing on the county budget held by the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. at the County Government Center in Leesburg.
The School Board and the Board of Supervisors will hold a joint public meeting on Feb. 27 at 9 a.m. at the School Administration Office in Ashburn.
The supervisors are expected to finalize and adopt the county budget the first week of April.
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