Recapping last night's budget work session

The School Board held another FY16 operating budget work session last night. They've started earlier this year, holding several work sessions before the Superintendent proposes his budget. At this work session, staff conducted a conversation about expanding full-day kindergarten.  They also provided preliminary funding estimates to reduce average class sizes to the 2009 numbers, which the School Board had requested at their summer work session. The documents presented should be on BoardDocs soon, but were not available online at the time of the meeting.

Dr. Michael Martin started by presenting an updated version of the full-day kindergarten presentation he provided to the Loudoun Education Alliance of Parents (LEAP). Currently, 75.5% of our English Language Learner (ELL) students and 43% of our economically disadvantaged students (of which there is some overlap) receive full-day kindergarten in various forms. In the proposed option, 31 schools that have space for expansion would provide 43 additional FDK classes, giving a potential total of 1600 seats for full-day kindergarten (a little less than 1/3 of the total projected LCPS kindergarten population). This would potentially cover all ELL and economically disadvantaged students plus 284 extra seats for other students. The cost was estimated at $3.5 million.

Superintendent Williams stated that a long-term plan is still needed, but it was not part of this conversation. Dr. Williams said that he is hearing that the School Board is interested in expanding full-day kindergarten incrementally in this fashion, but not to include a plan to get to universal full-day kindergarten in his proposed budget this year. There were no objections to that characterization of the Board's intentions.

The Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) will be discussed again at the regular School Board meeting tonight at 6:30pm, which was delayed due to Thanksgiving. The CIP is expected to be finalized on Dec. 9. Any physical expansion to facilities would need to be in the CIP in order to be accomplished. There is no space for any full-day kindergarten classes in several schools and not enough space to provide full day kindergarten in more than one class in many more with the current boundaries. Read more about it here http://www.sosloudoun.org/2014/11/planning-for-full-day-kindergarten.html

The School Board accepts public comments at 6:30pm at its meeting. To sign up to speak, call (571) 252-1020 or email the Clerk of the Board at Christine.Coleman@lcps.org in advance, or see the clerk prior to 6:30pm at the meeting in Ashburn.

The other area presented was the cost involved to reduce the average class size to FY2009 levels. Overall, it was estimated to cost an additional $17.4 million to reduce elementary average class sizes by 1 student and secondary (middle and high) by 2 students, to reach the goals of 22 elementary, 21.6 middle and 25.9 high school average students per class. If the School Board wanted to reduce class size by 1 student throughout K-12 instead, it was estimated at $10 million.

Neither of these costs were included in the preliminary budget numbers provided to the Board of Supervisors at the beginning of the school year. They were listed as possibilities, but not costed. The County Administrator is currently projecting that returning to last year's tax rate of $1.205 would cover the preliminary budget estimated increase of $67 million without new initiatives. The School Board had said at a prior meeting they planned to ask that $12.5 million be returned to their health insurance fund that was taken in a prior year for county-wide operating funds. If that were funded through real estate taxes, it would bump up the rate to $1.22.

The Board of Supervisors will have their next meeting tomorrow, December 3, at the Government Center in Leesburg. County staff plans to present an information item with history of the schools' health insurance fund at that meeting.

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