Loudoun County Superintendent of Public Schools Eric Williams unveiled a $1.2 billion proposed budget for fiscal 2019 on Tuesday that increases expenditures by 8 percent, or almost $89 million.
Now the fun part begins.
The rest of January will be “very hectic,” said School Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles), who was unanimously re-elected as chairman for this year.
Some are questioning why an 8 percent increase is needed when student enrollment only rose by about 2 percent this year. That query and more will be debated in the coming weeks as the school staff, board and Loudoun County Board of Supervisors negotiate a compromise.
The school board has meetings scheduled for Jan. 11 and 18 with a public hearing Jan. 24. That body plans to adopt its budget proposal Feb. 1, then discuss it with the board of supervisors Feb. 7. The county administrator will issue a countywide budget Feb. 14, then hearings are slated for Feb. 27 and March 1 and 3. The board of supervisors plans to adopt a budget April 3.
The 8 percent increase is needed to hire more teachers in new schools like the Academies of Loudoun and to maintain class sizes as enrollment grows in many schools, Williams said. He also proposed raising teachers’ salaries, expanding kindergarten classes and purchasing updated textbooks.
Since real property tax rates appreciated about 3 percent in the past year, the equalized county tax rate – the amount to equal the increased property assessments – is $1.09 per $100 of assessed value. That is down from the current $1.125 rate.
On Jan. 3, the board of supervisors requested by a 5-2 vote a plan from the county administrator showing a 1-cent increase over the equalized tax rate and another with a 1-cent decrease. That will give officials a better idea of what the administrator’s “hit list and cut list is,” said Supervisor Matthew Letourneau (R-Dulles). Priorities to add will be on the 1-cent over list and those that could be cut will be on the 1-cent under list, he said.
“The reason I like having that is because then we can judge for ourselves, based on the board’s priorities, what we want to add and what we want to subtract,” Letourneau said. “And there may be things on that hit list we want to add, and there may be some things on that cut list we want to take out and put other things in for.”
Williams’ budget proposal calls for an increase of almost 500 full-time teacher and staff positions. Besides the Academies of Loudoun, more employees are being hired for Goshen Post Elementary School and Willard Intermediate School , which are also slated to open this fall.
The budget provides for an average teacher salary increase of 3.2 percent, along with an average rise among all position scales of 2.2 percent. Compared to four other Northern Virginia school systems – Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William – Loudoun pays the highest starting salaries for teachers, including $55,444 for those with a master’s degree. But Loudoun ranks fourth in salaries for mid-career teachers, though the gap has narrowed in recent years, according to school district figures.
Williams also wants to increase pay for support staff. Bus drivers and custodians are seeing about a 7 percent wage increase this year.
The number of full-day kindergarten classes is projected to rise from 205 to about 235 next fiscal year, while half-day kindergarten classes decline from 56 to 13.
Elementary schools that will see changes to all full-day kindergarten classes under the proposal include Arcola, Buffalo Trail, Cedar Lane, Dominion Trail, Hutchison Farm, Legacy, Liberty, Moorefield Station and Pinebrook.
Another aspect that requires more funds is that the population of students with special needs – who require more resources – has grown “considerably faster” than the overall student enrollment, Williams said. Other proposed increases would go towards expanding mental health services for middle school students and upgrading school security.
Loudoun is spending $13,688 per pupil this school year, lower than all but three of ten districts surveyed in an annual review by the Washington Area Boards of Education. The WABE formula, part of an annual guide compiled by Fairfax County Public Schools staff, excludes most capital costs and debt service.
If the budget is not changed, the average spending per pupil would rise 4.1 percent to $14,253 next fiscal year. That would still put Loudoun among the lowest-spending districts, Williams said.
On Tuesday, some called for district officials to increase minority hiring, as well as hire gay and lesbian teachers. Several said the district needs to add language to formal policies to protect LGBTQ students and employees. Last year, the school board voted narrowly against doing that.