It was a few hundred thousand dollars—roughly 0.2 percent of the school system’s proposed $1.07 billion budget—that held the spotlight the longest during a public hearing Wednesday.
Several speakers at the hearing, joined later in the evening by a few Loudoun County School Board members, expressed concerns about only funding part-time principals at four of the county’s smallest elementary schools.
Currently, one principal serves Aldie and Banneker elementary schools, and another one splits time between Lincoln and Hillsboro elementary schools. Hillsboro Elementary will transition to a public charter school this fall, so Superintendent Eric Williams is proposing to reduce the principal position at Waterford Elementary to part time; the school would share an administrator with Lincoln Elementary. The two schools will have a combined enrollment of 276 students.
Parents of Waterford students urged the School Board to maintain full-time position at the school.
“This is not a big ask,” said Jim Miller, a parent of a first-grader.
He and other parents said that the school is so short-staffed now that the principal is the only person available to fill in when other school employees are out.
“The principal is often the only adult in the building or on the premises that doesn’t have a responsibility to be in a classroom, other than the secretary,” said Joe Delatorre, also a Waterford parent. “That to me poses a problem for the safety and well being of our children.”
To put their funding request in perspective, Delatorre added, “If the schools’ budget was $1,000, our ask is about 30 cents in order to fund full-time principals in our small schools.”
Parents from Aldie, Banneker, Lincoln and Hillsboro elementary schools have requested full-time principals in the past. But the idea has been out-voted by board members who point out that the small schools cost hundreds of dollars more on a per-pupil basis to operate than most other Loudoun schools.
During a work session Wednesday evening, newly sworn-in board member Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) said he’s already heard from parents and school employees concerned that no one is available to take the lead in an emergency situation when the principal is at his or her other school. The small schools have one cafeteria worker, one office secretary and one custodian. When any of those individuals are not there, it’s the principal who steps in to serve lunches, shovel snow or answer phones.
“If the principal is at the other school, who does those things?” he asked. “I think this is a need.”
Board member Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) agreed. She told Williams that “it’s a bit disingenuous” that his spending plan calls for more middle school deans to help lighten administrators’ workload, but doesn’t address the shortage in staff at the small schools.
“We really need to look at that,” she said.
DeKenipp and Tom Marshall (Leesburg) also suggested that the superintendent consider using available classroom space at the small schools to offer full-day kindergarten. Marshall said that could help draw more students to those schools, noting that for years the small schools have been under annual threats of being shuttered because of declining enrollment.
Families who are paying thousands in private school tuition for full-day kindergarten won’t hesitate to drive their kids even several miles away for an all-day program, he said. “They’re driving all over now to have their kids in private school.”
During the public hearing, some speakers also opposed Williams’ recommendation to provide teachers a pay increase and provide a full school day to more than 70 percent of the county’s kindergartners. Loudoun is one of three school divisions in Virginia that does not offer a full school day to every kindergartner.
Chad Greene told board members to skip pay raises for school employees. He said few in the private sector get a salary bump every year.
“It’s easy to spend someone else’s money,” he said. “Instead of thinking what can you do for the public school teachers, how about thinking about what you can do for the rest of Loudoun County?”
Victoria Stamp urged board members to not implement full-day kindergarten countywide. Even a three-hour school day was draining for her daughter and some of her classmates, she said. “They never would’ve made it through six hours of sitting still when they’re 4 and 5. Full-day kindergarten is not for all children.”
The School Board will hold one more public hearing, on Thursday, Jan. 28, before adopting a budget Feb. 2. The hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the school administration building, 21000 Education Court in Ashburn. Speakers can sign up in the boardroom at the start of the meeting or in advance by calling 571-252-1020.