|Loudoun Education Association President Joey Matthews responds to a reporter’s question at a press conference March 24 at the county government center in Leesburg. Times-Mirror Photo/Rick Wasser|
Members of the Loudoun Education Association advanced a clear and direct message to the Loudoun Board of Supervisors March 24: Why hold public hearings on the county budget if you aren't going to listen to your constituents?
The inquiry comes after scores of Loudoun parents and education advocates addressed supervisors at recent public hearings to urge them to fully fund Loudoun County Public Schools' adopted budget. The public's endorsement for full funding of the school system has substantially surpassed the slim vocal support for not funding the LCPS spending plan.
Loudoun County's supervisors agreed March 20 to a fiscal 2015 budget that falls more than $35 million short of funding the LCPS budget. Supervisors signed off on funding as much of the school system's budget as possible without raising property taxes for the average homeowner.
The board will formally adopt the county's fiscal 2015 budget and school funding April 2.
“At open input sessions the public spoke at an incredible 8-to-1 margin in support of full funding,” Joey Mathews, president of the LEA, said during the March 24 press conference at the county government center. “Loudoun supervisors have admitted that they've heard from more voters in support of fully funding than for cutting it. So what's going on? Is the Board of Supervisors listening to their constituents? Apparently not.”
Mathews continued, “It appears that supervisors are putting their campaign pledges of tax cuts before the needs of our students and a growing school system, even as their constituents continue to flood their emails with support for full funding.”
Next year's LCPS spending plan totals $950 million, a more than $105 million enhancement from fiscal 2014.
Without an increase to the county's property tax rate, the school system will receive a nearly $70 million funding boost in fiscal 2015 compared to the current year because of expanding revenues, something supervisors have repeatedly highlighted.
“The Board of Supervisors continues to prioritize Loudoun’s public schools within the budget, evidenced by the 8.5 percent growth in local tax funding to LCPS while local tax funding to the general county government is only increasing by 2.1 percent,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York (R-At Large) said in a prepared statement.
York's board went so far as to lay out how the School Board could distribute the $68.3 million LCPS increase included within the equalized tax rate of $1.155 per $100 in assessed value. In a county press release issued March 21, supervisors expressed support for the following enhancements within the school system's spending:
-$14.6 million for compensation increases;
-$7.1 million to fully fund requested class size reductions;
-$23.7 million for additional student population of 2,375 and the opening of three new schools;
-$5 million for technology initiatives with an emphasis on upgrading network infrastructure and refreshing computers;
-$1.6 million to fully fund the School Board’s new initiatives;
-$10.3 million for mandatory Virginia Retirement System contributions;
-$6.3 million for the projected 6 percent increase in healthcare costs;
-$100,000 for staff assistance for the School Board, similar to the legislative aides members of the Board of Supervisors have.
Voting against the March 20 proposal to increase the school system's funding were Supervisors Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling), Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) and Supervisor Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge). Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg), who has expressed support for increasing the LCPS allocation, was absent from the meeting.
The LEA's Mathews maintains the $70 million increase to the schools is woefully short of what is needed to accommodate a growing student population, top-tier teachers and enhanced technology. He pointed out the School Board elected to run the school system passed the fiscal 2015 budget unanimously.
Mathews provided an analogy for how he views the supervisors approach to school funding.
"You've got a kid that's in college -- he was a freshman last year, this year he's a sophomore. His costs for books and tuition have gone up. They've gone up, let's say, $500. You give that child $300; you have given him more funding, but you have not met the needs of his education. Right now that's where this county is with the Board of Supervisors," Mathews said.
This story has been updated from an earlier version.