3/25/14

Finding $38 million in cuts

We've seen what the Board of Supervisors suggests as their broad-based ideas for $38 million in reductions in the School Board's proposed budget. Looking at the public record, we can get some idea of how the School Board, who will make the actual decisions, might find that $38 million.

School Board members have been making public statements about items in the budget they'd look at if they have to make cuts from their proposed budget. Some of these have not been costed yet, but they are:
  • Lay off teachers
  • Reduce salary increases
  • Reduce Spanish instruction in grades 1-6 (FLES/SAMS)
  • Close small schools
  • Eliminate the proposed technology device reimbursement for teachers: $1.5 million
  • Eliminate the proposed 1:1 initiative expansion at Eagle Ridge Middle School and Sterling Middle School: $616,000
  • Eliminate the proposed expansion of full-day kindergarten: $895,854
  • Delay needed bus replacements
  • Further reduce transportation costs
  • Reduce athletics and other co-curricular activities
  • Eliminate specialized Family Life Education teachers
  • Eliminate freshman sports
  • Reduce the proposed technology support staff
  • Eliminate the proposed reduction of elementary class sizes: $7.1 million
  • Eliminate the proposed Performing Arts Magnet pilot: $49,533
  • Freeze administrative hiring

The questions the School Board has asked of LCPS staff during the budget process so far also gives some hints. School Board members have asked for the amount of cost savings of the following:
  • Raise class size average in MS by 1: $1.8 million
  • Raise class size average in HS by .5: $1 million
  • Eliminate extra planning periods for middle school subject area lead teachers: $900,000
  • Eliminate stipends for middle school SALTs: $69,000
  • Eliminate middle school deans: $3.8 million
  • Provide a 1% salary increase over the current salary scale instead of the proposed salaries: $22.6 million
    -or-
    Cap the proposed salary increases at 5%: $5.9 million
  • Eliminate extra planning periods for high school department heads: $840,000
  • Eliminate stipends for high school department heads: $415,800
  • Eliminate all stipends for co-curricular activities such as coaching, sponsoring activities, and taking on additional responsibilities: $3,952,817
Once the schools' funding amount is finalized by the Board of Supervisors, expected to be on April 2, the School Board will direct LCPS staff to propose reductions to the budget. They will receive public input and then adopt their final budget.

Contact the Board of Supervisors now to let them know these reductions are unacceptable.

Sources:
School Board member Kevin Kuesters Facebook post
School Board member Eric Hornberger Facebook post
School Board member Brenda Sheridan Facebook post
February 11 School Board meeting
School Board budget questions asked after budget adoption
School Board budget questions asked prior to budget adoption

Updated 8:06am with more known costs

3/24/14

BOS-Revised School Budget



The Board of Supervisors voted 5-3-1 on Thursday to keep the initial amount proposed by the County Administrator for the schools based on their preliminary fiscal guidance set back in September and add in an extra $1.6 million left over after the county side of the budget deliberations completed. This reduced the tax rate by 5 cents to $1.155, which gives the average homeowner no increase in property taxes from last year, even though property values have risen on average 4.2%.

Shortly after the vote, the BoS sent out a news release, quoting each of the five supervisors who voted for the motion, explaining how the School Board could distribute the money based on the School Board's original budget priorities. The School Board, of course, does not have to follow these suggestions. Once they receive a final number from the County, they will start the reconciliation process. They will ask the LCPS staff to propose their ideas for reductions, they will hear from the public about their priorities, and then they will make their decisions. At this point, they will have to find $38 million in reductions. These were the supervisors' suggested reductions:

1. Reduce spending on compensation increases by $14.3 million

Fixing the salary scale was a top priority for the School Board, and they could still choose to keep their $28.9 million plan to do so. In Fairfax County, the School Board has proposed reducing positions, mainly through attrition, in order to pay for similarly much-delayed compensation increases. Teachers in Loudoun County have not received their expected step increases on their salary scale in the last five years. In FY2009, the average LCPS teacher salary was $60,032. The current average LCPS teacher salary is $62,978, a 1% increase in 5 years.

The School Board and LCPS commissioned a community survey back in December to help understand our budget priorities. Of the 10,153 respondents, 90% were parents of LCPS students and 76% said that the School Board should be investing more money for "Competitive salaries that attract the best employees." It was the largest majority of any budget question.

Supervisor Geary Higgins suggested the School Board should fix the salary scale over two years instead of one, much as they did back in FY2001 and 2002. As a result of that correction, the average raise for LCPS was over 10% in both FY 2001 and 2002. The School Board has proposed a correction with an average raise of only 3.9% in their budget request for next year.

2. Reduce spending for new growth by $14.2 million

The School Board's ability to cut $14.2 million of the expected money needed from the amount allocated for new growth seems unlikely. Supervisor Matt Letourneau suggested that this number is being padded by LCPS staff. However, the School Board already went through these numbers with LCPS staff during their work sessions, and they have just as much interest in finding correct numbers as the BoS does. In fact, the School Board asked LCPS staff 138 questions that required further research and response regarding the operating budget prior to adopting it and another 10 in preparation for their work session with the BoS. This is the School Board's request, not LCPS staff's. It is much more likely that this $14 million reduction will come out of items considered less necessary than staffing for increased enrollment or new schools, such as extracurricular activities, transportation costs, and so on.

3. Reduce spending to improve technology by $9 million

The $14 million increase for technology requested by the School Board included $2.3 million for improving bandwidth and $7.2 million for refreshing old computers. The BoS news release suggests that the School Board spend $5 million on technology to specifically accomplish those two items. Unfortunately, that still leaves them $4.5 million short.

The technology plan that the previous School Board adopted in 2011 intended to provide every student and teacher with a connected device. Every year since then, LCPS staff has proposed funding to implement this plan, but the plan has been continually deferred. This year, the School Board requested $2.2 million to expand a 1:1 pilot program begun last year from 1/3 of one grade in one middle school to two full grades in two middle schools. Additionally, the $2.2 million included funding to begin a Bring-Your-Own-Device pilot that would allow some teachers to be reimbursed for qualifying device purchases. Neighboring counties Prince William and Fairfax have already fully implemented BYOD in their schools. Another nine Virginia counties have begun or fully implemented 1:1 device implementation as well. Loudoun County, home of "Data Center Alley," including Verizon, AOL, and Amazon, should be on the forefront of this initiative, but the BoS apparently doesn't agree.

Final budget adoption April 2

Technically, the Board of Supervisors have not finalized the budget and tax rate. That will happen on April 2. If five supervisors can be convinced before that vote to increase the amount for the schools, the gap can still be decreased. Supervisors Ken Reid, Janet Clarke, Matt Letourneau, Shawn Williams, and Geary Higgins have all hinted at some point that they might support a tax rate above the equalized rate in order to increase the schools' funding. In fact, Reid asked for that the night before the vote, Clarke reiterated her support of it the day of the vote, Letourneau said he knows the Board as a whole won't support it so he won't ask for it, and Williams came close to sounding like he was going to ask for it at the end of the meeting. Perhaps it's all just lip service, but on the off chance it isn't, keep up the pressure.

Let your supervisors know that you don't think their suggestions add up.

To reach your supervisors office, call 703-777-0204. Everyone's supervisor is Scott York plus there's a representative for your district. 
For your emails, cc: loudounbudget@loudoun.gov so that everyone involved will also get it.

3/21/14

Well, that didn't work...now what?

It's disappointing to say the least that the Board of Supervisors completely ignored the Superintendent, the School Board,  the LCPS employees, and most of all, their constituents (us) these past 6 months. It's likely that this funding amount is set, but here are some ideas for a continued grass roots reaction. Of course, there's only 12 days until the budget is officially finalized on April 2. Send any more ideas to info@sosloudoun.org or post them on Facebook or Twitter or in the comments below. Let's try to add to the list.

  1. Call your supervisors. Again. Email them. Send them letters. All contact info is here.
  2. Ask your supervisors to meet with you and a constituent group (PTA, HOA, Soccer team, etc.).
  3. Contact an influential person you know (Loudoun Chamber of Commerce's Tony Howard? Telos' John Wood? Redskins' Robert Griffin III?). Ask them to lobby your supervisor to consider increasing the schools budget.
  4. Call your friends to gather for coffee or drinks. Come up with more ideas.
  5. --your great idea here--

3/20/14

Let's recap

The Board of Supervisors voted last night to keep the equalized tax rate of $1.155 in a vote of 5-3-1 (York, Letourneau, Williams, Higgins, Buona in favor, Delgaudio & Volpe (they wanted less) and Clarke (she wanted more?) against and Mr. Reid absent). The proposed county transfer to LCPS is approximately $38 million less than the School Board's budget request. Let's recap how we got here:

  • June 28, 2013 - The LCPS FY2014 Appropriated Budget projects an FY2015 budget of $911.3 million assuming a 3% average salary increase and 2.2% enrollment growth, with $592.3 million of that needed from the county.
  • September 10, 2013 - The Board of Supervisors Finance Committee (Reid, Williams, Letourneau, York, and Buona) votes 5-0 to recommend the BoS direct the County Administrator to prepare a budget at the equalized tax rate and an option at two cents below the equalized rate. It's expected this will not cover the proposed budget for LCPS FY2015.
  • January 7, 2014 - Superintendent Hatrick proposes an LCPS budget of $952.4 million based on 3.4% enrollment growth, with $641.2 million of that needed from the county. $32 million is proposed for fixing the salary scales.
  • January 15 - The Finance Committee of the Board of Supervisors recommends keeping the final fiscal guidance as set in September. Members state that although it would be $40 million less than Dr. Hatrick's proposed budget, they expect the School Board budget to come in at much less.
  • February 6 - The County Administrator, with the Board of Supervisors' consent, advertises a tax rate of $1.215, which would fully fund the LCPS proposed budget, but proposes a county budget within the initial fiscal guidance of an equalized $1.155 tax rate. He proposes $599.1 million in county transfer to LCPS.
  • February 6 - The School Board, after a month of public hearings and work sessions, adopts a budget request of $949.7 million, with $638.5 million in county transfer, cutting approximately $10 million from Dr. Hatrick's request and adding in $7 million in other initiatives. $28.9 million is proposed for fixing the salary scale at an average 3.9% increase.
  • March 20 - The Board of Supervisors, after a month of public hearings and work sessions, preliminarily votes to give the schools the $1.6 million that is left of their unallocated revenue at the $1.155 equalized tax rate in addition to the original proposed amount for a total $600.7 million county transfer, $38 million less than the School Board's request.

Supervisor Geary Higgins (Catoctin) said it best at the meeting last night:
“This motion brings us in within the guidelines that we set forth at the beginning of this process. We have done what we said we were going to do, and this makes it happen.”

Upcoming:

  • April 2 - The Board of Supervisors adopts the final budget.
  • Month of April - The School Board reconciles their budget.




ACTION ALERT: Contact your Supervisors by 5pm TODAY

If you've already called, emailed, spoken at a meeting, THANK YOU.
Now, whether you have or not, call or email them NOW. In fact, do it by 5pm.

To reach your supervisors office, call 703-777-0204. Everyone's supervisor is Scott York plus the representative for your district.

For your emails, cc: loudounbudget@loudoun.gov so that everyone involved will also get it.

The Board of Supervisors will be meeting tonight at 6:30pm and is expected to take straw votes on the funding for the schools budget. None of the supervisors have said that they will support full funding of the School Board's budget. Many of them have said they will not.

Last night, Chairman Scott York said that the Board of Supervisors ran as a team in the last election, and they ran with their priorities being: lowering taxes; improving transportation; and economic development. He said that they are accomplishing that along with increasing the funding to the schools each year. Vice-chairman Shawn Williams said that he is listening to his constituents, but can't support full funding. He is frustrated that you don't see this Board's commitment to education.

School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger recently addressed the Board of Supervisors so-called increases:


Supervisor Ken Reid said that he will not be able to attend the work session tonight, but would like to hear a motion to set the tax rate at $1.175, 3 cents lower than the current tax rate, in order to only cut the schools budget by $27 million instead of the current proposed $39 million cut.

Hornberger said at the joint work session between the School Board and the BoS that he felt that the schools could absorb a $10 million cut to their budget request, but that anything more than that is going to be cuts that Loudoun County citizens will not want to think about. Even the $10 million won't be easy, he said, or they would have done it already.

Let's close with a letter to the editor of the Loudoun Times-Mirror:
I am writing today to share my thoughts on the upcoming budget decisions the Board of Supervisors will be voting on this month. As a homeowner of a modest, middle class townhouse in Leesburg, I have followed the budget work sessions and public input sessions very carefully. I have also spoken at two of the recent monthly meetings where the upcoming budget deliberations were the obvious central focus of the citizens in attendance.

I have heard calls from members of the both the Board of Supervisors, as well as the School Board for anyone (and everyone) who feels the need to not fully fund the proposed school budget because of the increase in taxes it may require - to please come forward – we need to hear from you. And at the same time, there have been parallel calls for citizens to come forward and share their desire for a fully funded school budget – in spite of the modest tax increase it may require.

In following the public input sessions very carefully, I have tracked the live - in person speakers at public input sessions, and my calculations are that for every one speaker calling for tax cuts (or holding taxes at current levels) there were eight speakers imploring supervisors to fully fund the school system budget even though they were fully aware of the modest tax increases it may require – and often their remarks actually included a reference to their acceptance of possible higher rates. Eight to one (not four to one or two to one) was the ratio of public support for a fully funded budget and the modest tax increases. If anyone doubts that ratio, then I challenge them to review the transcripts of these meetings and count for themselves.

I have heard several supervisors refer to a need to “keep taxes low, so we can remain attractive to businesses that are thinking of locating here.” Those very people were welcome to come and speak and say just that “I own a business nearby Loudoun, I’m considering opening a store in Loudoun, but if the taxes don’t drop, I’ll look elsewhere.”Current business owners already in Loudoun were welcome to come and speak to the tax rates, and say “I own a business in Loudoun that has generated jobs and revenue for the community, and without lower taxes, I will seriously consider moving my business elsewhere.” None, not one comment was of this nature from any speakers at completely open public input sessions.

I am not, nor have I ever been concerned with the political party designation of my elected officials, there are both Republicans and Democrats that I have fully supported, and some others on both sides that I have consistently disagreed with. The one constant for elected officials I must have, is that they are a “listener” to the people of the community they serve. If after hearing in-person from over hundreds of people speak to supervisors at the last four meetings and two budget public input sessions overwhelmingly tell them face to face that they expect a quality of public education that a fully funded budget provides – and supervisors don’t fully fund that school budget – then they are just not listening to their citizens.

There has never been a more important time than right now, for our local elected officials to be less of a Democrat or a Republican, and be more of a listener.

Carl Mackey
Leesburg

It's not over until final budget adoption, expected to be April 2.

3/17/14

Are you still paying attention?


Plans have changed again. Any votes on the school budget have been delayed to this Thursday, March 20, at the earliest. Attend the Board meeting Wed, March 19 to tell them what you think of their plans to not fully fund the schools budget.

Last we spoke, the Board of Supervisors was planning to take any votes on the funding for the schools last Thursday, March 13, or tonight, Monday, March 17. On Thursday, the BoS did not take up the schools budget at its work session, and on Friday, the BoS announced that the work sessions scheduled for tonight was cancelled as unnecessary.  The next work session will be Thursday, March 20. With the snow, it ended up that tonight's session probably would have been cancelled anyway, had they not done it already.

The original schedule would have allowed for a public input session where people could have responded to any straw votes taken on the school budget at the work sessions at the Board of Supervisors regular meeting March 19. Now, any votes taken at the work session could potentially be adopted before the BoS hears public input at their April 2 meeting. Last year, they voted on the budget as amended in the work sessions prior to hearing public input at that meeting.

So, it seems, we go into the March 19 public input not knowing much more of the supervisors stance before the process started.

We've established that e-mails to the BoS and speakers at the public hearings are overwhelmingly in support of fully funding the School Board's budget request and aware that it means taxing them on the rise in their property assessments. It may be in the supervisors' interests that the public not see or hear if they go against this active majority, so they are stalling any public declarations of their decisions. Perhaps they are hoping that you are going to lose interest and stop paying attention.

Supervisor Delgaudio (Sterling) is the only supervisor so far to flatly state his or her intention on the schools' budget. He said that he will motion to give the schools no increase over last year's budget. The County Administrator has proposed an increase of $45.5 million in the county transfer following the BoS guidance of a reduced tax rate of $1.155. The BoS has gone through every county department's budget request during the prior work sessions and has not made many reductions to them. Thus, any significant increase in the school transfer over the proposed amount will require the tax rate be set above the current BoS guidance.

A majority of the supervisors have said that they will not support fully funding the School Board's budget request. Supervisor Reid (Leesburg) has suggested he may support a tax rate of $1.175 or $1.185. Others have hinted that as well. That rate would still represent an approximate $20-30 million cut from the School Board's request.

The upshot of the delay is that you have even more time to contact this Board and let them know your thoughts on the schools budget before they vote. We only need to convince five supervisors to do the right thing. Email your supervisors and cc: loudounbudget@loudoun.gov. Plan to attend and speak at the Wed, March 19 or Wed, April 2 regular board meetings. To sign up, call (703) 777-0200 in advance or sign up in person when you get there.

Show the Board that you are still paying attention.

3/9/14

Not listening

The Board of Supervisors met with the School Board on Saturday, March 8, for a work session on the budget. Supervisor and Chairman Scott York (At-Large) began the meeting by letting everyone know that no votes would be taken. Instead, votes would be at one of the next two work sessions: either Thursday, March 13 or Monday, March 17. Both work sessions start at 6pm at the Loudoun County Government Center. Supervisors Reid and York will not be present at the Thursday session, so the BoS may decide to wait to vote on motions until the following Monday. The decisions are not final until final budget adoption, which is expected to be April 2. That's important because there's still time to convince the BoS to listen to you.

At the meeting Saturday, rescheduled from last Monday due to the snow, Supervisors Higgins (Catoctin) and Reid (Leesburg) and School Board members Rose (Algonkian), Bergel (Catoctin), and Sheridan (Sterling) could not attend. The School Board began with opening statements. One of the School Board members said that he hoped the Board of Supervisors would listen to the constituents who came out to the public hearings.

York responded that while the School Board hopes we listen to the people, that there are people on both sides of the issue. He recounted an email he received from a single mother worried about her tax burden going up. He said that the BoS has to make sure they're doing right by all their constituents.

Supervisor Shawn Williams (Broad Run) echoed that refrain. He said that he hears people saying to raise our taxes in the public hearings, but businesses won't move here if the BoS does that. Also, we need to remember people on fixed incomes. He didn't mention that there is a program for property tax relief for seniors and those on disability.

Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (Sterling) said that he plans to make a motion to fund the school budget at the same level as the current year, with no increase at all. The School Board has asked for $106.1 million increase. The equalized tax rate that the BoS set as their goal back in September would currently provide the schools with an approximate $66 million increase with federal and state revenue included. Delgaudio then cited the six or so speakers from the public hearings that spoke out against funding the proposed School Board budget by first name, saying that he appreciates their coming out. He didn't name the hundred or so that asked for the support of our schools.

You get the picture. The day before the work session, Leesburg Today ran this cartoon:
It may have been being generous that they were hearing anything at all. Please call and email your supervisors (both your district and Chairman York) and cc: loudounbudget@loudoun.gov. Ask a question and see if you get a response. Keep up the pressure until April 2.


Ok, so this is going to go long. Feel free to stop anytime, but they also covered a lot of ground at the work session. Unfortunately, many of the questions that the supervisors asked were answered in the School Board's presentation to the Board of Supervisors on February 18.

Priorities

School Board chair Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) pointed out early in the meeting that the School Board's priorities, which the BoS had made a big deal about not receiving, were on page 5 of the presentation.


They addressed all of these during the meeting.

Compensation

Nearly every supervisor questioned fixing the salary scale in one year. Supervisors Ralph Buona (Ashburn), Matt Letourneau (Dulles),  Janet Clarke (Blue Ridge), and Williams all said that they supported competitive compensation, but went on to question the expense of $28 million for an average 3.9% salary increase for this year.

Buona questioned why LCPS doesn't compare its salary to Clarke County. Hornberger said it was for various reasons: it is not listed in the WABE guide comparisons, it is not considered part of Northern Virginia, but most of all, Clarke County doesn't hire very much, so LCPS is not competing with them for its many hires. A quick check bears this out: Clarke County is currently looking for 1 assistant principal and no teachers. Loudoun County is currently looking for 1 assistant principal too, but also 5 principals and 10 teachers, and numerous other licensed personnel.

Buona dropped that line of questioning but went back to the lack of turnover seen in LCPS. School Board member Bill Fox (Leesburg) pointed out that we are losing principals in droves, percentage-wise. Fox also argued that while we may not be losing a lot of teachers, the School Board wants a competitive salary to attract the best teachers. To get some perspective, check out this graph from the work session packet that answered a question Supervisor Higgins, a former School Board member himself, had asked prior to the meeting:
Buona said that he had heard from at least one teacher who told him teachers had not received a raise in 5 years. But as you can see from the above chart that was only the step increase that wasn't received in 5 years. Still, in many cases, the increases in the past two years haven't even covered the extra cost from teachers' benefit cost increases. Fox pointed out that health care benefits at LCPS now match the county options. Buona then wondered why school employees use their health insurance more than county employees.

Buona also suggested that teachers feel entitled to both a cost-of-living increase and their step increase on the salary scale and wondered where that entitlement came from. Perhaps its because even before they are hired, they are pointed to the salary scale stating what they can expect to make each year, prominently featured in recruiting, and they could reasonable expect it'd be adjusted for cost of living over time.

The real reason to pay our teachers more is because they deserve it and we can afford it. What's your child's favorite subject in school? It likely had to do with a favorite teacher. And when they have a bad one, they lose interest. Teachers directly affect our children's education and future.

Supervisors Buona and Williams both mentioned being able to fund renovations for Broad Run High School in this year's Capital Improvement Plan as a sign they support education. They used some creative financing, using $13.25 million cash surplus from the County and $1.4 million from the schools because they didn't want the debt service to increase too much. Wouldn't it be nice if teachers, who have a much larger effect on our children's education, could get the same kind of consideration?


Growth

Supervisor Letourneau was the most forceful questioner on Saturday. He especially questioned the School Board on the amount of the budget request proposed to address growth. He found the number confusing as it is $10 million more than last year for a similar amount of growth. The School Board attempted to explain the difference. First, there is a new middle school, high school, and elementary school opening next year. Last year, there were only two elementary schools, which required less staffing. In addition, some of the cuts from the past two years were being addressed. For example, while enrollment grew 3.8% last year, the School Board's budget only increased 2.5%. LCPS does a zero-based budget each year,  going through staffing for the projected students school by school and class by class.  Finally, LCPS is handling more ELL and special education needs each year. Hornberger said that at two representative high schools, Potomac Falls and Heritage, 25% of staffing goes to special education and ELL. This year, School Board vice-chair Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said, 59.6% of LCPS employees are teachers. Next year, the proposed School Board budget has 59.8% teachers. Letourneau argued loudly with the School Board members as they defended the numbers, but they promised to get his questions answered in detail.

Class Size

Both Letourneau and Clarke also questioned the reduction in class size. Cardinal Ridge Elementary and Rock Ridge High will be serving Letourneau's constituents next year, and Rock Ridge will also serve Clarke's constituents. Shouldn't the new schools bring down class sizes on their own, Letourneau asked? Fox responded that Catoctin Elementary is one of the schools they are trying to address, where they had empty classrooms, but classes with over 28 students in some grades. Letourneau argued they should have hired another teacher already this year, then, with surplus money. Clarke also was curious how much the $7.1 million to reduce class sizes will actually help when there isn't room for more classes. Turgeon explained that it would. Again, this is in the presentation from February 18:



Technology

Many supervisors agreed that improving bandwidth at the schools was a crucial new expense. Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (Algonkian) wondered why the School Board proposed a technology reimbursement program for teachers as a Bring-Your-Own-Device pilot, though, when LCPS could bulk purchase devices for every teacher at a reduced cost. This is exactly what LCPS staff has proposed for the past two years. However, the School Board changed to the reimbursement plan both to save in costs, partly because it doesn't cover all teachers, and to test out the BYOD theory, which they may decide to use for students as well. Clarke suggested that perhaps the teacher tech reimbursement should wait until after the bandwidth is expanded.



Other Initiatives

Volpe passed on a question from a former FLES teacher asking why the School Board is considering starting a Spanish Immersion program so soon after reducing FLES. Fox and Turgeon explained that it is a very different program, and one that should have a much greater positive effect on language learning.

Clarke wanted clarification on the expansion of full-day kindergarten. She said she's heard from a lot of parents happy about its expansion. Turgeon said FDK would be expanded from 4 schools to 9 schools out of 56 total in the proposed budget. However, other parents could request to attend one of those schools if there's capacity. Volpe suggested limiting full-day kindergarten at the 9 schools to only at-risk students. School Board member Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run) said that he does not support full-day kindergarten as a rule except for at-risk students. He plans to look at modifying the school choice policy so that extra capacity in FDK programs will first go to at-risk students.

Cuts

Wow, if you made it this far, thanks for your interest. The last topic that was addressed was possible cuts. Now that the BoS understood that these are the School Board's priorities, what would they cut if they don't get their full budget request?

Chairman Hornberger pointed out that the process of reconciliation will determine that for the School Board. They will meet after they find out their funding and vote on any necessary cuts after first hearing from LCPS staff and the public. That's the standard process. However, individual School Board members could say where they think they would cut. Hornberger mentioned closing small schools, further cuts to FLES, and eliminating the expansion of full-day kindergarten. He felt that LCPS could absorb a $10 million cut from the proposed School Board budget without too much distress, but after that, they would be cutting into items the community as a whole definitely values like transportation and sports. 

Turgeon said that about $50 million of the proposed budget request are required expenses like retirement funding, increased healthcare costs, and addressing growth, leaving only around $15 million for new initiatives if the BoS only approves the current suggested amount at the equalized rate. She felt that new initiatives would be cut severely if that happened.

Again, if you support this budget, you need to let the supervisors know. Contact your supervisors now. Once the BoS takes their initial votes on the schools budget, you can address them in person at the public input at 6pm at the Wednesday, March 19 regular business meeting at the Loudoun County Government Center. Call (703) 777-0200 to sign up to speak.

3/5/14

Just the facts

Loudoun Historical Tax Bill and Rate from page R-6 of the FY2015 Proposed County Budget
One of the final speakers at Saturday's public hearing on the budget suggested a compromise between fully funding the School Board budget at the $1.215 tax rate and cutting the proposed School Board budget by $40 million at the $1.155 equalized tax rate. He suggested keeping the $1.205 tax rate. Following this, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Scott York said:
I just want to correct one thing that has been said that is not factual in this that needs to be said: "Keeping the tax rate at $1.205 is not a tax increase.” 
If we kept the tax rate at $1.205, it is not an increase in the tax rate — that is correct — but it is a tax increase. That’s why we go through the process to find out what equalization is, and equalization of what today’s $1.205 is, is at $1.155. That is the value of the revenue that we would raise under last year’s property values. 
The difficulty that the Board does have and faces every year is the impact of its decision on the budget. At $1.155, which I’ll just now represent as equalization, for many people can be a tax burden decrease. For many people, at equalization, they’re out of the box at $500+ an increase in tax burden, because unfortunately some folks assessments have gone up anywhere above 8%, and I’ve heard as high as 18%. So we have to keep in mind, not only to ensure that we fund the services in Loudoun County, but that we also try to ensure an affordable community for folks to live in and it is a delicate balancing act. 
So, just note, again, that $1.205, if we left it there, it is a tax increase. That’s just fact.
This is another great example of a member of the Board of Supervisors complaining about people getting their facts wrong, when it's really a matter of perspective.

Taxing a value at the same rate is not a tax increase due to the value being increased. If your income tax rate is 28% and you get a raise, the federal government did not raise your taxes, even though you'll pay more on your income tax bill. Likewise, the county is not increasing your taxes if they keep the tax rate flat and your property value increases. Yes, your property tax bill will increase, but the county did not raise your taxes.

As you can see in the above chart, taken from the proposed county budget plan, this Board has lowered both the tax rate and the average tax bill for the past three years. If the Board were to maintain the current tax rate, the average taxpayer would pay less than they paid in FY09, FY11, and FY12. If you want to see the affect of raising the tax rate one cent on your tax bill, try out this tax calculator.

Many people also do not consider it "unfortunate" that their property values have increased. Instead, they appreciate the housing recovery and its affect on the equity in their home.

You can sign up to speak at the public input at the regular Board of Supervisors meeting being held today, March 5, at the Loudoun Government Center in Leesburg by calling (703) 777-0200 by noon today or signing up when you get there. Public input starts at 6pm. Remember to email your supervisors at loudounbudget@loudoun.gov as well.

To view Mr. York's comments yourself, see go to the 2:01:15 mark of the video online.

3/2/14

What's next?

It's not over. So, what's next?

The Board of Supervisors was scheduled to meet with the School Board for a work session on their budget request on Monday, March 3, but due to the weather, it was changed to Saturday, March 8 at 9am. It will still be at the Government Center in Leesburg. You can watch in person or on Comcast Channel 23, Open Band Channel 40, Verizon FiOS Channel 40, or online at the Loudoun County Webcast System.

There may be straw votes taken at this meeting. It's a bit concerning that it's now a Saturday session as Mr. Reid will likely not attend due to religious reasons. Supervisor Reid (Leesburg) has been signaling his support for schools and being open to paying for it at a tax rate closer to the current one. 

If you didn't get a chance to speak at one of the public hearings, you can still let the Board of Supervisors know you support our schools at the public input at 6pm on Wednesday, March 5 at the regular Board of Supervisors meeting. To speak,  call (703) 777-0200 by noon on Tuesday to sign up in advance or just sign up in person at the meeting.

There are more work sessions scheduled mostly on Mondays and Thursdays through March 24, but no others specified for the school budget alone at this point. 

You'll be able to speak in person to the Board at least one more time after the school work session on Wednesday, March 19 at their regular meeting. Final budget adoption is expected at the regular meeting Wednesday, April 2. Last year, the vote was taken before the public input part of the meeting. 

Keep monitoring here and local news sources for pertinent information. If you haven't yet, send an email to loudounbudget@loudoun.gov (or even if you have, but have a new thought!). You can also contact your supervisors directly  (everyone has two: your district's and Chairman York) by email or call (703) 777-0204. You can also write a letter to Board of Supervisors, P.O. Box 7000, Leesburg, VA 20177.

And once the Board of Supervisors finalizes their budget, if there are any cuts, that will go back to the School Board to reconcile any differences. But we'll get to that later!

Updated: 3pm, 3/3 due to rescheduled work session

Look what we did!

Wednesday, 2/26 Public Hearing, Loudoun Government Center

Saturday, 3/1 Public Hearing, School Administration Building

We had a great turnout for the public hearings Wednesday and Saturday. The speakers in support of our schools were wonderful and well-informed. In all three hearings, around 125 people spoke. About a hundred of those spoke in support of fully funding the school budget. Only about a dozen spoke against it. 

Recaps from Leesburg Today:
But as is expected to continue this evening, the schools budget dominated the afternoon session of almost 20 speakers, with many people saying they were willing to pay more money in taxes to get the schools additional funding.
“I am not a wealthy man, I pay my mortgage with two jobs, but I have no problem paying more taxes for [my son’s] education,” Leesburg resident Scott Copeland said.
“I don’t have kids in schools but my property values are tied to the public schools,” Sterling District resident Steven Hall said. “…we have the money and think we should use it for our schools.”
The Board of Supervisors room was awash in red last night as speaker after speaker urged supervisors to adopt a tax rate that would fully fund the School Board requested budget—and audience members held up red signs saying “Support Our Schools,” “Fund Their Future” and “Fully Fund Our Schools.”
As the Board of Supervisors closed its final public hearing on the FY14 budget Saturday, the overwhelming message from those who came out to speak was clear: fully fund the School Board’s request for Loudoun County Public Schools.

Thank you to all who took the time to come out and especially those who had the courage to speak. If you did speak, please consider sending it to loudounbudget@loudoun.gov. It'd be lovely if you would share it in the comments here and/or on the Support Our Schools Facebook page. 

It remains to be seen if the Board will listen to their constituents. The School Board did. 

Coming soon...what's next?

Updated: 2:30pm, 3/3 with Saturday link, article excerpts