2/26/15

Two down, one to go!





Turnout was great for the first two Board of Supervisors budget public hearings yesterday. At the first session at 3pm, five of the nine supervisors were in attendance, and eleven people spoke. Speakers were excellent. Ten spoke in favor of fully funding the schools budget and one spoke in favor of needed library services.

But that was just ramping up. All the supervisors and Superintendent Eric Williams were in attendance at the second session at 6pm and the room was packed. Approximately 40 people spoke in support of our schools. All of the speakers were noticeably prepared and made excellent points. Highlights included:

  • Two Sully Elementary teachers, Melissa Muszynski, who spoke in Spanish followed by Sandy Sullivan, who translated in English, spoke for the at-risk students affected by the cuts last year who would benefit from the restorations and improvements in this year's budget.
  • Candidate for Algonkian Supervisor Andrew Resnick's speech explaining that supporting schools is good for all citizens of Loudoun County received so much applause Chairman Scott York admonished the crowd to keep it down so people could hear him read the speakers' names.
  • Sugarland Elementary's Patricia Caldwell-Wilson, who is back in the classroom as a second grade teacher after her position of math specialist was cut last year, spoke strongly in support of our schools sharing her experiences not only as a teacher but as a parent and Loudoun County resident. 
  • Lisa Carter, a parent of two LCPS students and a former LCPS teacher, spoke in favor of fully funding the budget in order to ensure the expansion of full-day kindergarten is implemented. 
  • Peter Rush, one of Loudoun's elected Soil & Water Commissioners, urged the Board of Supervisors to consider the community's stated priority of school funding over tax cuts.

Both hearings should be online soon at http://www.loudoun.org/webcast. You can check them out there.

And it seemed to make an impact. Before the public hearings today, Supervisor Ken Reid wrote this budget update in his e-newsletter:
Budget Season is in full swing, and once again the School Board's adopted budget cannot be fully funded without tax increase. This Board has held the line on taxes consistently, but it is difficult to keep up with increasing enrollment and demands to educate our kids.
More students means you need more schools, more teachers--both capital and operating costs go up. The School Board's proposed budget, at $1.3 million more than the Superintendent's budget, would require $661 million dollars of County Transfer Funding.
So, in order to keep the average homeowner's tax bill from going up, the Board of Supervisors this April would have to set the tax rate at $1.13, which is about 2 cents less than it is today. However, in setting the rate at that rate, the School Board would likely have to cut about $25 million from its proposed budget during "reconciliation"-- unless the Board cuts something on the "general fund" side, which finances public safety, social services, parks, recreation and other "non education" services.
This table shows various scenarios, relating the school shortfall to the average tax bill: 

Tax Rate Scenarios
Just so you know, $1.165 is what is being advertised as a possible tax rate, but I seriously doubt my colleagues would support this -- nor would I.  While some may say that Loudoun County residents can easily afford another $160 per year, let's remember that this is an AVERAGE TAX RATE INCREASE, and many whose homes appreciated significantly in value will pay a lot more.  In addition, our County has seen a growth in lower income residents -- exemplified by the fact that we now have more Medicaid beneficiaries than Arlington. Sequestration has taken its toll, not just on federal employees and contractors, but owners of commercial properties that are sitting vacant.  We must not forget that not ALL Loudoun taxpayers can shoulder big jumps in taxes from year to year.

Also, based on conversations I have had with School Board members, they believe they can rectify some of the spending differentials.  However, I must say that I do not want to see a $25 million cut.  Last year, the School Board went through a bloody reconciliation due to a $35 million shortfall, and I do not want to see that again.  But I am keeping an open mind on the tax rate and spending as we proceed.
After the hearing, he posted this on Facebook:


If you spoke yesterday, be sure to email your supervisors your comments as a follow-up. We have one more budget public hearing this Saturday at 9am at the School Administration building in Ashburn. Call (703) 777-0204 to sign up to speak in advance or sign up when you get there. You can sign up as long as the hearing is still in progress. Come out and join us!


2/25/15

Be there

The Board of Supervisors first budget public hearings are today. The County's proposed budget would cut $25 million from the School Board's adopted budget. Last year, the Board of Supervisors heard from us and didn't listen. Will it be any different this year?

It won't be if we don't try of course. But the landscape is different. Of the nine supervisors, four are not running for reelection. Those four include: Ken Reid, who supported our schools during last year's budget cycle; Janet Clarke, who last year and this year has spoken sympathetically to our cause; Scott York, who in previous terms was more receptive; and Shawn Williams, who proposed starting the County budget this year at the current tax rate of $1.155. We only need 5 votes to narrow the $25 million gap.

Be there today at 3pm or 6pm at the Government Center in Leesburg. Be at the last budget public hearing on Saturday at 9am at the School Administration building in Ashburn. Bring a friend with you. Call (703) 777-0204 to sign up to speak or sign up when you get there. It's time once again to stand up to support our schools. 

2/7/15

Talking about the Schools Budget

The County Administrator presented his budget with a projected $25 million shortfall for the schools. The School Board will be presenting its adopted operating budget and capital improvement plan to the Board of Supervisors this Thursday, February 12 at 6pm at the County Government Center in Leesburg. The Board of Supervisors has scheduled public hearings on the budget for February 25, 26 (if needed due to overflow on the 25th), and 28th. The BOS plans to finalize the budget on April 1.

So, from now until then, we need to let the Board of Supervisors know why we support the School Board's adopted budget. If it's not fully funded, any of the new expenses could be cut. You can speak at a public hearing, write an email to your Board members, call your Board members, write them on Facebook, tweet, and so on. In preparation for that, let's look into just what's in this budget and what might be something you and your neighbors in particular support.

New stuff
  • Expansion of full-day kindergarten - $2.5 million
  • Expands full-day kindergarten from 11% to 35% of kindergarteners, concentrating on at-risk students. A lottery system is proposed to fill any extra seats for students not at-risk. These schools are projected to add full-day kindergarten classes:
  • Technology improvements - $2.9 million
    • Continue the bandwidth improvements from last year
    • Replace computers over 5 years old
  • Reduce high school class size average by 1 student - $3.6 million
    • Will reduce LCPS high school class size average from 27.9 to 26.9
    • School Board's stated goal is 25.9
    • Loudoun has the second highest high school class size average in the Washington metro area
    • When including all teacher-scale positions (reading specialists, ELL, librarians, coaches, etc.), Loudoun has the highest high school students per teacher average in the Washington metro area 
  • Add a special education post-secondary transition specialist - $119,900
Special education students have special needs when leaving the school system. This adds a specialist to concentrate on this area, easing the burden on special education teachers and parents.
Loudoun's ELL program lags behind other neighboring counties. This brings them more in line, while still being less staffed.
  • New staff to open Riverside High School in Lansdowne this September, 2015 - $2.5 million
  • Initial staff for the new elementary school in Brambleton opening September, 2016 - $0.1 million
  • Playground for Meadowland Elementary - $50,000
Four elementary schools do not have playgrounds. The new ones will be funded through leftover bond money from their construction, but Meadowland is an old school that never raised enough funds to build a playground. This will come out of the operating budget. All future elementary schools will now include playgrounds.
Enrollment Growth
  • Enrollment is projected to increase by 3.4% - $22.2 million for school-based staff to cover this
  • Extra teachers to maintain class sizes as needed - $0.7 million
  • All staff is only increasing by 3.5%
Salary Increases
  • Step increases for all eligible employees (average 2.5% increase) - $17.4 million
  • 1% increase for staff ineligible for a step increase at the top of the salary scale - $350,000 
Restoring some things we used to have
Changes the formula from 1 dean if less than 1100 students, 2 deans 1100-1299, 3 deans 1300+ TO 2 deans if less than 1200 students and 3 deans if 1200+. These middle schools all will add 1 dean: 

    • Traditional summer school - $550,000
    • Health clinic at Hillsboro Elementary - $0.1 million
    Savings
    Superintendent Williams and his staff worked hard to to save in areas in order to offset the new expenses. Here are some of those areas:
    • Increases health insurance co-pays and deductibles in an attempt to bring the self-insured fund out of debt
    • Reallocates 20 ELL Kindergarten teaching assistants
    • Eliminates vacant bus driver and assistant openings
    • Decreases technology lease expenses
    As we look over the schools budget, it's important to share the information most relevant to us with our neighbors as well as our Board of Supervisors. Let's see if we can't force that overflow public hearing on February 26th. 

    2/4/15

    How much are we really talking about? (2015 edition)



    The County Administrator has proposed a tax rate of $1.13 (half a cent less than the equalized rate). He advertised a rate of $1.165, which would fully cover the School Board proposed budget along with his proposed county 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 $1.155
    Proposed $1.13
    Advertised $1.165
    Difference from Last YearProposed: Advertised:
    Difference This Year Proposed to Advertised
    Difference Per Day Proposed to Advertised