Loudoun County Public Schools is set to operate on an adopted budget of $1.493 billion in fiscal 2022 after the Loudoun County School Board trimmed roughly $4.584 million from the superintendent’s proposed budget on Tuesday.
Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, LCPS Interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler recommended changes to the original, $1.497 billion proposed budget based on staff input, amounting to $130,000 in savings. Board members ultimately passed an additional nine amendments, a notable reduction from the 22 amendments the board made to the fiscal 2021 budget.
Among the costliest amendments were two made by Jeff Morse (Dulles District): one moving several types of classified workers, including bus drivers, up a pay level on the LCPS Teacher Salary Scale; the other providing a 0.5 percent market increase to steps 11 through 25 on that scale. Those amendments resulted in budget increases of $2.267 million and $196,882, respectively.
The first amendment stemmed from a motion by Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge District) in which he proposed LCPS move bus drivers up three pay levels, citing a bus driver shortage the school system has suffered for about a decade. According to Serotkin, LCPS has 67 vacant bus driver positions open today.
“The persistent shortage has significant ramifications on the quality of transportation service that we provide. It directly causes second loads at many of our larger schools and contributes to other problems such as long bus routes, secondary students sitting three to a seat, walk zones longer than research recommends at the elementary level … problems for which board members have cited eliminating the driver shortage as a prerequisite for tackling,” he said. “I believe it’s time for bolder action.”
While Morse opined Serotkin’s proposed amendment “was a good motion” that “made a lot of sense,” he said he could not “in good faith” approve such a large pay increase for certain employees.
“Adding a 20 to 25 percent pay increase for some [employees] is just not the best use of our dollars and not the most accurate way to determine what the right rate is to set for our bus driving force,” he added.
Serotkin rebutted by saying he believed such a large pay increase would eradicate the bus-driver shortage, adding that a single-level increase would ultimately amount to a little more than $1 extra per hour, which he said would not be a sufficient hiring incentive.
Morse’s amendment regarding step increases for certain classified employees passed 6-3 with Serotkin, Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) and Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn District) opposed. His amendment regarding the 0.5 percent market increase carried unanimously.
Leslee King (Broad Run District) proposed the board increase stipends for arts employees across the county — including drama, band and choral directors — for $185,966 in total expenditures. That amendment also met unanimous approval.
“I believe the arts need to be compensated,” King said when speaking to her base motion. “I believe that this is a modest sum, and it’s something that we can afford.”
Beth Barts (Leesburg District) added, “I think that this is long overdue, and we’ve heard about this for seven years now, and I’m thrilled to see this as part of our budget.”
Other cost-adding amendments included the following: the addition of a Web Designer and a Communications Specialist to the staff for a cost of $249,568; the addition of a stipend for National Honor Society Sponsors at each high school for a cost of $45,971; and the provision of software for new laptops for all teacher assistants for a cost of $184,467. The cost of the laptops themselves will be taken from FY21 year-end funds, as proposed by motion-maker Denise Corbo (At-Large).
Major savings came in the form of a 2 percent reduction in the FY22 projected enrollment as proposed by Serotkin, reducing the budget by $6.384 million. Per board documents, the school system expects more than a 9.8 percent increase in students, which Serotkin said is the single highest enrollment growth projection out of nine different area school systems whose budgets he analyzed.
“We expected to have 85,755 students this school year, FY21. We actually have 81,504, which is an under-enrollment of 4,251 students,” he said. “Will most of these students return this year? Yes. Will all of them return next year? No. The proposed budget assumes that they all will, plus an additional 1,864 students in organic growth, based on population increase. I think it’s more realistic to assume that for FY22, 70 to 80 percent of each of those growth vectors will occur, both for withdrawn students returning as well as for the organic growth.”
While Morse said he was confident in the school system’s flexibility to accommodate students should next year’s enrollment surpass expectations, Sheridan and King opposed Serotkin’s amendment. The former said LCPS should avoid insufficient staffing and, therefore, having to resort to larger class sizes, while the latter cited the county’s continued growth.
“At a time when our students are going to need remediation and more intensive instruction as we go back to school in the fall, making a decision that could potentially put us in a situation where we would have larger class sizes is foolhardy at this time,” Sheridan said. “We don’t need to do this.”
“You have to remember they are continuing to build out the Metro, and that will increase our numbers,” King added. “Places are selling in Loudoun County, they don’t stay on the market very long at all, so I don’t think we should short ourselves.”
Serotkin’s motion to amend carried 7-2, with Sheridan and King opposed.
Amendments that resulted in further savings included the removal of several positions including a Financial Analyst, Employee Relations Director, Compliance & Investigations Supervisor, Labor Relations Supervisor, Labor Relations Coordinator and two Compliance & Investigations Coordinators, totaling $1.038 million in savings. Further, the board opted to delay hiring five custodians for the not-yet-opened Elaine E. Thompson Elementary School, saving an additional $161,244.The board’s budget amendment and approval process started a little after 11 p.m., following nearly three hours of public comment and deliberation regarding the return to hybrid learning. When Sheridan asked Morse, the former Chairman, if 11:04 was “the latest we’ve ever started a budget adoption process,” Morse answered, “At least in the last 10 years.”