2/25/14

What do I say?

You're thinking of speaking in front of the Board of Supervisors and wondering what to say. Here's some ideas to help out.

- Identify yourself as a Loudoun County taxpayer and voter.
- Address your Supervisor directly. 
- If you have or will have kids in LCPS, say where they go to school. 
- Tell the Board you want the budget fully funded. 
- Mention ideas how to pay for it: maintain or raise the tax rate, reprioritize spending, etc.
- If you're willing to pay more in taxes to fund the schools, let them know. (See the Tax Calculator http://www.sosloudoun.org/2014/02/how-much-are-we-talking-about.html for exact numbers that you can relate.) 
- Consider a gimmick. Sing a song, recite a poem, have your child speak. Feel free to exercise creativity. 
- Try a positive take. Most of the Board has expressed their support for our schools at some point. Find a comment you liked and let them know. Help them know it's ok to do the right thing. 
- Mention ways the School Board has addressed BOS concerns from the past two years: cutting benefit costs, reducing bus routes, conducting a search for a new superintendent.
- Remember you have two minutes. It's not a lot of time. Time your comments once or twice. 
- After the hearing, send your comments to your supervisor and cc: loudounbudget@loudoun.gov reminding them what you said. 

Add any tips of your own in the comments!

2/20/14

What turnout should look like

There are three public hearings on the budget scheduled: Wed, Feb 26 at 3pm and 6pm at the Loudoun County Government Center, 1 Harrison St. SE  in Leesburg and Sat, March 1 at 9am at the School Administration building, 21000 Education Courtin Ashburn. Last year, about 50 people total spoke at the budget public hearings.

Here's what the final Ashburn middle & high schools boundary public hearing looked like last Spring. There were 193 speakers that one night alone. (Photos from Leesburg Today.)



The budget affects ALL of Loudoun County Public Schools' students. 
Are you going to show up?

Call (703) 777-0200 to sign up to speak at at a public hearing. 

2/19/14

NOW is the time to SPEAK UP

The School Board presented their proposed budget last night to the Board of Supervisors. It was a nice presentation, laying out their priorities and their justifications. The Board of Supervisors are going to need more convincing though.

Surprisingly, many of the supervisors expressed that they didn't know the desires of their constituents. If you haven't yet, now's the time to let your supervisors know you support our schools as your number one priority.

The School Board presented the results of the Community Priorities Survey they had done, where over 10,000 people responded, and 76% of them want "competitive salaries that attract the best employees" to our schools. Supervisor Volpe, though, asked if any of those survey respondents were from her district (zip code 20165). Hasn't she heard from you yet? If you're in the Algonkian District, send her an email at suzanne.volpe@loudoun.govand cc: loudounbudget@loudoun.gov. Tell her you support that too.

Supervisor Williams wonders why we care so much about teachers' salaries if we're not teachers ourselves. Do you live in the Broad Run District (Broadlands, Ashburn Village, and more)? If you're not a teacher, he needs to hear from you that you support full funding of the budget. Is Eagle Ridge your middle school? Tell him you want the 1:1 initiative expanded there like the budget proposes. Email him at Shawn.Williams@loudoun.gov and cc: loudounbudget@loudoun.gov.

Supervisor Buona would like to know what you want to cut from the budget so that he can lower our taxes. He supports reducing class sizes, increasing teacher salaries and improving technology. He just thinks we can get rid of some of that other stuff and fit it all in. What do you think? Do you live in the Ashburn district (Ashburn Farm, Lansdowne and more)? Let him know whether your priority is lowering your taxes or if you would rather support our schools. Email him at Ralph.Buona@loudoun.gov and cc: loudounbudget@loudoun.gov.

Supervisor Clarke thinks maybe teachers would rather keep their property taxes low than get their step increase on the revised salary scale. She also wonders whether parents of students where full-day kindergarten would be expanded would be more hurt by a property tax increase than helped by full-day kindergarten. (Property tax increase to fully fund the budget would cost most families around $300 per year. After-school care for a kindergartner for a year is a lot more than $300!!). Are you a teacher who lives in Loudoun? Will you have a kindergartner at Middleburg, Forest Grove, Sterling, Meadowland, or Frederick Douglass? Are you in the Blue Ridge district (Brambleton, southwest Loudoun)? Email her at janet.clarke@loudoun.gov and cc: loudounbudget@loudoun.gov.

Supervisor Letourneau thinks that we don't need to fix the salary scale to be competitive with our neighbors because turnover is low and our cost of living is lower. Folks, these people think they're representing you. Are they? Do you live in the Dulles district (South Riding, Loudoun Valley Estates)? Email him at Matt.Letourneau@loudoun.gov and cc: loudounbudget@loudoun.gov.

Here's the kicker. Supervisor Scott York represents all of us in Loudoun County. He said that public input is taken at every Board of Supervisors business meeting, that there are public hearings coming up on February 26 in Leesburg and March 1 in Ashburn, and that is your chance to tell the Board of Supervisors what you want from them. Then, he said that the School Board's budget will not be fully funded. Hmm. Contact him too and let him know what you think about that. Email him at Scott.York@loudoun.gov and cc: loudounbudget@loudoun.gov.

Maybe your supervisor didn't make the comments highlights, but you should still email him and cc loudounbudget@loudoun.gov. Catoctin district - Geary.Higgins@loudoun.gov, Sterling district - Eugene.Delgaudio@loudoun.gov, Leesburg district - Ken.Reid@loudoun.gov (Mr. Reid was not present at the meeting).

You can also call your Supervisors at (703) 777-0204 to talk. Sign up to speak at a meeting or public hearing by calling (703) 777-0200.

2/13/14

How much are we talking about?



The County Administrator has proposed a tax rate of $1.155. He advertised a rate of $1.215, which would fully cover the School Board proposed budget. So how much money are we talking about? This chart is filled in with an example. Customize it using your assessment values to see how it would change your taxes.

Last Year's Assessment
This Year's Assessment

Tax RateYearly Tax
Current $1.205
Equalized $1.155
Advertised $1.215
Difference from Last YearEqualized: Advertised:
Difference This Year Equalized to Advertised
Difference Per Day Equalized to Advertised

2/12/14

The Board of Supervisors letter

The Board of Supervisors sent a letter to the School Board last Friday. The School Board discussed it at their meeting last night.

In the letter, Chairman York first implies that the School Board was expected to follow the Board of Supervisors fiscal guidance to the County Administrator. Then, he asks the School Board to let the BoS know what changes they would make to the budget (that they just adopted) to cut $39.3 million from it in order to be in compliance with said fiscal guidance. Perhaps it's obvious, but the School Board didn't seem to appreciate the timing, tone, or contents of this letter. They worked on the budget for weeks with public hearings and work sessions and are now preparing to present it to the Board of Supervisors in six days on Tuesday, February 18 at 7pm at the School Administration building in Ashburn. They will explain their justification for this budget and why it should be fully funded. They have no intention of reconciling the budget in advance of the Board of Supervisors finalizing their revenue allotment in April.

Some of the School Board discussion: 

Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) directed her comments to Loudoun County citizens. "Everything is at risk," she said. "Music, sports, arts." If you want the budget fully funded, she said you need to "Speak up. Speak loudly. Be clear," and suggested you email loudounbudget@loudoun.gov

Jennifer Bergel (Catoctin) seemed offended that the letter didn't discuss any of the goals they were trying to achieve with this budget - salary enhancements, reduced class sizes, technology improvements. 

Debbie Rose (Algonkian) said, "We can't comply with this request. It would essentially reopen the budget."

Bill Fox (Leesburg) said "Quite frankly, this just isn't how things are done." He continued, "Our budget reflects the community priorities we've been hearing...I could easily say we'll do an across-the-board administrative hiring freeze and cut our raise in half and lose the drop in elementary school [class sizes] and get rid of freshman sports and we could probably get there pretty easily, but is that what anybody wants? The constituents that I have are the exact same constituents that they have. If they're hearing this overwhelming 'keep the tax rate down, 'keep the tax rate down', I've gotten like 3 emails from these folks, so I'm wondering where they all are. I hate taxes! But if this is what my constituents want, to keep the tax rate low, I haven't heard from any of them." 

Jeff Morse (Dulles) would like to respond with: class size, teacher pay, technology. If the Board of Supervisors cuts $39.3 million from their budget request, "You're going to impact these three things which adversely affects every student in Loudoun County, every teacher in Loudoun County, every family in Loudoun County, the property values in Loudoun County. You're killing the golden goose."

Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said that people criticized this School Board for its first two years' budgets that made large cuts to the Superintendent's proposed budget and now praise them for this year's budget with little cuts. She asks them to consider that in each case they did their jobs. Their budget states what needs to be fulfilled. The BoS doesn't have line item veto. 

Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run) said that he is happy with the current process where the Board of Supervisors sets the amount to spend and the School Board decides how to spend it. He said, "The letter from Chairman York does not give the School Board credit for what we've done over the last two years." He also noted that Fairfax County is currently looking at making changes to balance their budget this year that Loudoun already made in prior years.  But, he points out that the BoS has to weigh transportation versus education and we'll see what happens.

Tom Reed (At-Large) pointed out that the joint committee had asked for more input to the Board of Supervisors before they set their fiscal guidance in September and didn't receive it. He said he knew of no easy cuts.

Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) suggested that the Board of Supervisors is attempting to overstep the School Board's constitutional authority by making this request. He said, "It is unprecedented." He will craft a response from the School Board denying their request when he has time, but he's working on the budget presentation as a higher priority for now.

Gather your friends and neighbors and let's show some support for fully funding the School Board budget at their presentation to the Board of Supervisors on February 18!

2/9/14

On to the Board of Supervisors



With the first battles won, the fight now goes on to the Board of Supervisors. They have scheduled three public hearings, two on February 26 at the Leesburg Government Center, and one on Saturday, March 1 at the School Administration building in Ashburn.

The School Board over the past two years has cut employee benefits and cut the transportation budget, both items that the Board of Supervisors have mentioned in the past as ripe for cuts. During last year's budget talks, Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York said, “Change is good, and my words today to the School Board: Change needs to happen at the top of the administration. Dr. Hatrick has served this county well for many years, but we are now in the 21st century. Many things have to change. And unfortunately sometimes in order for change to happen change has to first happen at the top.” Two months later, Dr. Hatrick announced his retirement.

The Board of Supervisors have gotten what they asked for from the School Board. The advertised tax rate of $1.215 would cover the proposed School Board budget, but the Board of Supervisors has asked for an equalized rate of $1.155, cutting an estimated $40 million from that budget. The BoS has set aside 2 cents of that revenue for transportation, even though our state sales tax was increased this year in order to pay for transportation. Tell the Board of Supervisors to fully fund the School Board budget. It's time.
Call (703) 777-0200 to speak at a meeting and email loudounbudget@loudoun.gov today. 

2/6/14

Budget Victories!!

Both the Board of Supervisors and the School Board met last night regarding next year's budget.

First up, the County Administrator presented his proposed budget to the Board of Supervisors. He proposed setting an equalized tax rate of $1.155. In a big win for our schools, he also decided to advertise a tax rate of $1.215. That means that the Board of Supervisors could go as high as that in the normal budget process. Per Leesburg Today, that rate would provide approximately $949 million for the schools budget (that includes the expected state and federal money too).

This was a HUGE WIN for us, as the School Board also met tonight and it is asking for approximately $949 million!!

Which was another HUGE WIN.

A recap of the School Board meeting (if you follow SOS Loudoun on Twitter or Facebook, most of this is old news to you):

  • First up was Brenda Sheridan's (Sterling) proposed expansion of full-day kindergarten to 5 more Title I eligible schools: Middleburg, Forest Grove, Sterling, Meadowland, and Frederick Douglass. It passed unanimously.
  • Next was Eric Hornberger's (Ashburn) motion to reduce average class size in elementary schools from 24 to 23. It also passed unanimously. Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run) pointed out that Loudoun has the largest average class size for elementary schools in the DC metro area. 
  • Mr. Hornberger's moved to accept his revised salary schedule along with step increases. His revisions were intended to provide more rational increases along the steps that the staff proposed schedule. As a side effect, it also saves about $3 million. Jeff Morse (Dulles) proposed an amendment to cap salary increases at 5% on this schedule. Mr. Morse's plan, with the cap, does not correct the salary scale as intended by Mr. Hornberger's and the original staff salary schedule revisions. Mr. Morse's amendment failed 5-4 with Mr. Morse, Ms. Turgeon, Ms. Rose and Mr. Kuesters voting in favor of the amendment. Mr. Hornberger's original motion carried 8-0-1 with Mr. Morse abstaining. 
  • Next, the first cut -- to take out around 30 new positions where staff had requested multiple new positions. All positions were outside the classroom. This passed 7-2 with Tom Reed (At-Large) and Jennifer Bergel (Catoctin) opposed.
  • Bill Fox (Leesburg) then proposed another cut to reduce the Technology O&M budget by $2 million. The technology department is fine with this after looking over its computer refresh plan and seeing a welcome revision. They intend to refresh with laptops on carts instead of desktops, which would save the $2 million and may be a better plan going forward. This unanimously passed.
  • Ms. Sheridan went back to an increase and motioned to extend the current 1:1 initiative at Eagle Ridge MS and add it to Sterling MS as well. This is a successful pilot program so far that has teachers and students singing its praises. It passed 6-3.
  • Mr. Hornberger's motion to provide teachers with technology reimbursements of up to $500 also passed.
At the end of the night, the School Board unanimously passed their adopted budget. Next up, convincing the Board of Supervisors to fund it. Big victories under our belts and now we need to keep up the pressure. More on that soon!

2/3/14

What could happen...

Lots of you are very informed on the process of the schools budget by now, but just in case, a quick recap: first, the Superintendent proposes his budget -- that happened January 7; next, the School Board will adopt a budget -- that happens this Tuesday, February 4; after that, the Board of Supervisors will adopt a budget on April 2; finally, the School Board will need to reconcile any difference in their request and the final budget from the Board of Supervisors.

It's a marathon, not a sprint, and the first leg is almost over. Not quite yet of course. You still have time to let the School Board know what you think they should do. Here's the rub: you won't know that you don't want them to cut something they are thinking of cutting until they happen -- and that won't be until it's over. The process is public though, and all the work sessions and budget discussions are online and the questions and answers the School Board has asked are online too (albeit a bit hard to find - some are here and some here some here.

Some highlights:
It seems the School Board is set to increase teacher salaries and revise the salary scale to better position Loudoun for the future. They have talked about the positive feedback they've received from the community on this issue.

The technology initiative seems to have little support beyond improving infrastructure and providing teachers with devices or a reimbursement towards purchasing their own device. One of the questions from School Board member Debbie Rose:

68. What would be the budgetary impact across the departments if the school board does not approve the 1-1 initiative? It is my understanding that staff and resources have been requested to support this initiative. (Rose/Jan 19, 2014) 

The questions also provide some clarity to the proposed LCPS budget. Some of the increase in staffing is an attempt to lower class sizes at the elementary level, which wasn't spelled out clearly at first. This sounds like it has support from the School Board as well.

One area of concern to middle school parents may be this question from School Board member Bill Fox:
97. What would the cost savings be if all the deans at each MS were eliminated and an additional Assistant Principal was added instead? What are the advantages or disadvantages of this? (Fox/Jan 22, 2014) 

Finally, School Board member Brenda Sheridan sounds like she is planning to propose expanding full-day kindergarten to five more schools with high populations of at-risk students.

83. Provide a list of those schools who are next for Title I or full-day Kindergarten and the cost needed to provide it? Do these schools have the room to provide it? (Sheridan/Jan 22, 2014) 

The School Board adopts their budget request on Tuesday, February 4, so contact your representatives now to let them know your final thoughts. Then be prepared for the quick turnaround to the Board of Supervisors to convince them to provide the funding needed for the proposed budget! The County Administrator will be presenting his first draft on Wednesday, February 5 to the Board of Supervisors at 4pm.