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.

9 comments:

  1. Volpe also wanted to know if the board was considering closing the smaller schools down and I am assuming she was referring to Banneker and Lincoln again. If that's the case and she just wants the result from her district why does she care about those schools?

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  2. I watched the first 1.25 hours of the meeting and this description is spot on.

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  3. Great post! I was there as well and appreciate your reporting.

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  4. Excellent piece! The BOCS are not listening. They asked for priorities and that's what the school board gave them. If they do not hear from citizens, they will not act.

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  5. I watched the entire thing, start to finish, and agree that this is spot-on. It surprised me that York went as far as to declare that the BOS would NOT be fully funding the budget – at its initial presentation, even before they have a chance to understand it, even while they have unanswered questions about it. Well, I have some questions, too. (With apologies for the length of this...)

    So, I thought I'd take a look at some of the BOS recent working documents and see what they've been doing lately. You can find BOS and committee working documents freely available on their Document Center web page:

    http://www.loudoun.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/Index/7735

    One of the supervisors commented that a significant, if not the primary, determinant of whether a company would locate here in Loudoun county was the tax rate, that ours wasn't competitive with Fairfax County's. Yet the latest Economic Development Committee's own monthly report of its effectiveness does not even mention tax rates. Instead, it summarizes investments, visits to existing businesses, Internet activity on its web sites, commercial vacancy rates, commercial building permits, hotel revenue, retail sales, Dulles airport passengers and freight, and unemployment rates. Where is the graphic showing Loudoun's tax rate compared with other localities?

    Far more significant is that the "Summary of Key Findings" from the county's own Department of Economic Development's Workforce Report, which was evidently presented at their 1/27/2014 meeting, identifies the QUALITY OF OUR SCHOOLS as the #1 quality of life factor that helps attract new employees (though not, interestingly, employers) to Loudoun County. Here are their numbers: "quality of schools (86%), public safety (75%), availability of housing (72%) and outdoor amenities (72%)". The report also states "Cost of living (56%), cost of housing (53%) and transportation system (47%) were the factors most frequently cited as unfavorable in attracting new employees, with the first two of these factors likely more difficult for those employees that work in lower-paying sectors."

    Did someone say we have a relatively low cost of living, and that's an argument against funding the proposed budget's correction of the "teacher salary sag"? (The BOS repeatedly complained that, because the sag has been such a long-standing problem, why can't we just fix it slowly, in stages, over several years?)

    Here's an additional perspective on why the BOS might not want to raise our tax rate: according to their Economic Development Committee, that figure seems to be inexorably tied into how much state money the BOS can grab and hand over to companies moving into Loudoun County. Specifically, the money from the Virginia Governor's Opportunity Fund must be matched 100% by Loudoun County, and whatever Loudoun County gives must be fully "reimbursed" by the extra property taxes that the company would pay over the next 3 years for fee waivers and/or cash and over the next 5 years for infrastructure improvements.

    At the meeting with the School Board, the BOS did imply that their consideration of teacher salaries would need to be balanced against similar concerns about the salaries of police and fire fighters. Perhaps the BOS considers the tax ramifications of paying businesses to come to Loudoun too complex for us constituents to understand. It seems plausible to me,, however, that it might have a direct bearing on their consideration of tax rates and is therefore highly relevant to the discussion about what's more important than funding our schools. Shouldn't they at least mention this factor?

    (Continued in next post, I hope.)

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  6. (Continued from prior post.)

    Another supervisor tried to argue that raises in teacher salaries would be wiped out by the extra property taxes they would have to pay to fund the entire school budget. She threw out a figure of $1000 per year (where did that come from?) added to one's mortgage and thought people should be asked whether they want that.

    What I'd like to know instead is this: for each 1/2 cent of increase over the equalized tax rate, what is the actual monthly dollar cost impact on – not the average household in Loudoun, because we have the highest median income in the country – but on a carefully defined segment of the population who would experience the highest impact. What does each half-cent do to lower-income families (including teachers!) in the county? I bet it's nowhere near as large as she wanted to leave us to believe.

    Can't agree on what families should be considered "lower income"? How about this: include all families income at or below the median wage, which is $58,000 according to the BOS Economic Development Committee. Due to the definition of "median", that means you'd be looking at HALF of all households in Loudoun County.

    And it was also stated that if the new tax rate were set at the equalized tax rate, people would already be paying more taxes, because their house assessments rose last year. But I thought the point of the equalized tax rate was specifically to accommodate that effect so that the net income to the county would be roughly equivalent in SPITE of the rise in assessments.

    What is really going on here? Again, I would like to know what the impact is – not on the "average" family – but on the lower-income ("below median income") families. How many of them actually pay property tax? Is it reasonable to assume that renters constitute a larger proportion of that group than higher-income families?

    Why isn't the BOS showing their math in a way that makes clear the real magnitude of their decisions based on people's presumed ability to absorb whatever changes are necessary? There are an awful lot of families in this county for whom an extra $50 per month is pocket change. Just whose money is the BOS really claiming to save, and what are they trading away to do that?

    I don't think the BOS has any business BEGINNING the FY2014 school budget talks by drawing a line in the sand. There's a lot more explaining – to us, who elected them – that they should be doing first.

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  7. Hey look at this! This blog has a page with a handy online calculator to determine exactly how much more YOU might have to pay if the BOS elects to use the $1.215 advertised tax rate that would fully fund the School Board's budget:

    http://www.sosloudoun.org/.../how-much-are-we-talking...

    I entered my data and discovered that the TOTAL difference for the entire year would be $190. That's less than $16 per month. (My assessment dropped a bit. How 'bout that...)

    Where are they getting these figures of $1000 extra or even $300 extra per year for the average Loudoun household? Frankly, I'm not really interested in how much more people inhabiting $600,000 single-family homes would need to pay. And my household income is several times the BOS' current estimate of median income in the county, which is something like $58,000/year.

    Something else is going on here, and I'd like to know what the BOS is trying to obfuscate behind their statements of "averages". (Assuming they're trying, of course, and not just using whatever statistics conveniently support their predetermined position on this.) Hmmm...

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  8. I should clarify something in my prior comment (wish I could edit it), because it relates to whether we are adequately paying our teachers to live in the county in which they teach.

    The $58,000/year median figure that I quoted came from this document, recorded for the BOS' Economic Development Committee meeting on 2/24/2014:

    http://www.loudoun.gov/DocumentCenter/View/100715

    which states:

    "Loudoun County may elect to match the Virginia Governor’s Opportunity Fund... Minimum Requirements... The company must create a minimum of 50 new jobs which pay 100 percent of the county’s median wage, which is currently $58,000."

    I do not know why that figure did not trip my "sniff test"; according to an April 23, 2013 American Community Survey (ACS) Income Highlights report for 2011, the median HOUSEHOLD income for 2011 was $119.134, however, the median PER CAPITA income was $44,732. I suspect that the $58,000 figure in the BOS document refers to the PER CAPITA income.

    So, my earlier statement about "my household income" is incorrect, as we are a 2-income household.

    The ACS report is quite interesting, however:

    http://www.loudoun.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/9701

    "Households with an income of $200,000 or more accounted for almost 20,000 households or 18.2% of households in Loudoun County; the largest amount in any income cohort. Households earning less than $50,000 accounted for approximately 17,600 households (16.5%)."

    The report is primarily concerned with how median incomes are distributed across locations within the county and certain demographics, and it attempts to characterize the nature of the cost of housing on renters and homeowners. I would be interested in seeing a similar analysis of based on occupation – or at least focusing on households containing LCPS teachers and administrators.

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