The Loudoun County School Board voted on Tuesday during its business meeting to authorize $15 million in appropriated and unspent funds, which is at least $6 million less than what was recommended by staff, to cover several expenses.
A few board members did not support the staff’s full recommendation list requesting the authorization of $21 million that included such items as HVAC equipment replacements, a fueling station repair and replacement, and a school bus camera system.
The board spent more than an hour making their cases.
“I’m not proposing we take all $21 million and direct it into a carryover item. I think something more realistic,” said School Board Chairman Jeff Morse, Dulles District.
“If we could take this and give you $10 million and have you prioritize the HVAC improvements and the upgrades, I think we could get a long way towards that list of things that you’re trying to get ahead of,” he said.
Last month, LCPS staff presented the system’s third quarter financial review that identified available fiscal 2022 appropriated, unspent funds and staff’s recommendation of usage of some of these funds. As of Tuesday, the list was revised with the addition of one item bringing the total request to $21,376,058, according to the May 10 staff report.
Sharon Willoughby, chief financial officer for LCPS, said the school system is projected to have a $30.8 million ending fund balance. The remaining funds will carry over to fiscal 2023, according to Wayde Byard, spokesman for LCPS.
Staff said the reason for the amount is because of personnel savings, specifically with the number of vacancies the school system is unable to fill.
Morse spoke at length about the “huge surplus” after each of the last 10 school years. He said LCPS is carrying “this huge amount of operating budget surplus” and then spending it on things that were not a priority at the beginning of the year.
Superintendent Scott Ziegler said in response that the staff has actively managed this year end projection.
However, he said this year’s budget had a lot of unknowns due to the lasting effects of COVID.
Ziegler said staff was unclear what the final revenues would be through the first three quarters of the current budget year. He said staff also experienced a hiring freeze until tax revenues became clearer and at one point, he also said staff believed the balance would be below the 1% threshold.
“So, this is not just a shot in the dark,” Ziegler said. “We do actively manage this projection and this year end funding.”
Kevin Lewis, assistant superintendent for the support services, said LCPS does not have some funding in its operations and maintenance budget, but it’s a minimal amount. He said staff are also seeing double digit inflation costs on replacement equipment.
“It is a myriad of things that got us there and it’s our goal to try to make sure that we don’t have a school with a system that’s out, and we have students and staff in the buildings in an uncomfortable or unlivable situation,” Lewis said.
Morse said “when it’s coming at a cost of classroom things, I have a sincere sense that we’re trading in classroom support for a future HVAC that would probably be able to be handled, at least some of it, in future years.”
Vice Chair Ian Serotkin, Blue Ridge District, and Board Member Brenda Sheridan, Sterling District, made two amendments that increased the authorization to an additional $5 million highlighted by $2.2 million going to support a grant program to incentivize teachers.
School Board Member John Beatty, Catoctin District, voted against the board’s action that will cover the motion to authorize the funding.
“It’s concerning when we can’t pay for teacher raises or fully funding the arts, but there is money available at the end of the year for staff initiatives that don’t go through the normal budgeting process,” Beatty said in an email to the Times-Mirror. “I can’t support putting teachers last at the end of the year.”
Beatty did not immediately respond to questions whether he intends to propose anything during reconciliation process.
A work session and public hearing is scheduled for May 19 on the reconciliation of the fiscal 2023 budget. The budget is expected to be adopted on May 24.