Supervisors, School Board Talk School Budget

The Board of Supervisors and the School Board held the first of joint two meetings on the budget this week, but spent much of the meeting talking about how to talk.

The two boards tackled tense rhetoric over the school budget head-on.  School board member Jeff Morse (Dulles) said that the two boards have a “very good working relationship” and that he expects that to continue, although he added there is a “natural tension” between the two boards.

School Board member Jeff Morse (Dulles). (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
School Board member Jeff Morse (Dulles). (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

“Your responsibility is to set the overall tax rate, but the Virginia Constitution has instilled in us the responsibility to educate,” Morse said. He said that tension is by design.

Members of both boards said they were eager to cooperate, but that natural tension did surface several times.

Several supervisors have expressed frustration with the School Board’s budget, which requires more money than the county has to give without raising taxes. At supervisors’ request, the school board has ranked its 10 highest-priority capital projects, the top eight of which are all either new schools, additional classrooms, or trailers to meet capacity needs while new schools are built—all in the Dulles North and Dulles South areas.

At the school board’s prompting, Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams spoke about the school budget request, describing what’s at stake. Proposed expansions to full day kindergarten and teacher pay could be on the chopping block, he said.

“But even with those, there are other, tougher choices that need to be made,” Williams said. “Will we be able to maintain class sizes, will we be able to maintain staffing. And I can’t stand here today and say that those would be off the table.”

The Tax Rate

“I was rather surprised, in a period of great growth of the school system, that someone would come up with an equalized tax rate,” said school board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg). “In many ways you’ve set us up in a bad situation because you have already fixated on a tax rate.”

County Administrator Tim Hemstreet has presented the Board of Supervisors with a proposed budget based on a tax rate that keeps the average real estate tax bill level, as directed by the board. He also presented the board with a recommended budget that increases the real estate tax rate to generate more revenue in the face of a stalled tax base caused by flat property values.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say that we backed you into a corner with a tax rate, because I don’t know what that tax rate is, and neither does anybody else up here,” returned county Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). He defended the proposed budget: “We have to start the budget process somewhere.”

Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)
Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). (Renss Greene/Loudoun Now)

“There are hard choices, and let’s not forget at the end that this board’s final charter, as much as people hate to talk about it, we have to set a tax rate and do an appropriation,” Buona said.

However, he also signaled that he may be open to a small tax increase. The current and equalized tax rate is $1.135 per $100 of assessed value; Hemstreet has told the board it will need to raise the rate to $1.17 to fully fund the schools’ budget request, including an increase in the share of tax revenue sent to schools.

“I really personally don’t believe we can get to $1.17,” Buona said. “I really don’t believe that. Can we do better than $1.135? Personally, yes.”

It’s Not Like Last Year

Last year, the Board of Supervisors—at that time with different people in five of its nine seats—fully funded the school board’s request, drawing from a $65 million general fund balance. County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said the county likely will not be able to meet the school board’s full request this year, but said “if we’re going to be honest, let’s be honest on all sides.”

“That was done in an election year, and the fact that most everyone who did that, not everyone, but almost everyone, ran on the fact that we fully funded the budget in an election year is significant,” Randall said. “Why is it not equally important that we fully fund the budget when it’s not an election year?”

Second-term Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) “wholeheartedly” rejected that logic. He said that board used its best-ever revenue year to pay down debt and one-time expenses, freeing up money for the school budget, and said he would have been willing to do that regardless of election year.

Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) listens to Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). (Renss Greene/Louduon Now)
Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) listens to Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). (Renss Greene/Louduon Now)

“Let’s be a little bit careful with that insinuation, because I don’t think that is honest or fair, at least to some of us, and you’re ascribing motives to some of us that didn’t happen,” Letourneau said.

“As a new supervisor, I would have loved to have had some fund balance saved from last year, I will openly admit that,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run). “But I also think we have to be very, very careful about impugning each other’s motives.”

Despite the tension, both boards finished the meeting expressing goodwill and optimism about the relationship between the boards, if not the county’s fiscal picture.

“It is more important than ever on the county level to show our kids what leadership actually looks like,” Randall said.

One thought on “Supervisors, School Board Talk School Budget

  • 2016-03-05 at 3:04 pm

    Let’s be clear about the discussions between the school board and the BOS. The school board is lying through their teeth in broad daylight. Here’s how:

    1. LCPS claimed that teachers have not received step increases prior to FY16 (Question 21 posed by Higgins). That is a bald-faced lie. Every year since FY12, teachers were (a) moved up a step and (b) received a pay increase averaging 2% or more (after discounting the VRS contribution transfer). That is a step increase in no uncertain terms. In fact, one spouse of a prominent school board member moved from a step 11 to a step 14 (from FY13 to FY16) and received a 12%+ pay raise over that time (over 4%/yr). This board member has NEVER disclosed the conflict prior to voting on the budget (a “transaction”) even though he has been voting his own household a raise every single year. For the proposed FY17 budget, this board member wants to vote himself another 4.3% raise (and a step increase) without disclosing any conflict of interest. Such an “ethical” school board, eh?

    2. Let’s dig further into the budget proposed by our quarter-million dollar emperor with no clothes (Supt Williams earns $250K+/yr). Williams claims LCPS desperately needs to increase its mid-step pay scale to “compete” with neighboring counties like Fairfax. Despite LCPS never justifying this claim, the BOS forced them to answer questions about attrition. With an ~8% annual attrition rate (everything from retirement, family moves, new careers and district transfers), LCPS has about 480 teachers leave each year. Of those, only 3% report moving to another district (mostly Fairfax). Folks, that all of 15 teachers a year!!!! And LCPS reports we have dozens transferring INTO LCPS including over 45 each year from FFX. So despite more than 3x as many teachers coming to LCPS vice leaving, our dear leader insists we must throw more money at teachers who have been receiving 4% raises/yr and will practically never leave. Either Williams is incompetent or just pays off the union. Either way, he should not be leading our kids.

    3. Randall and Morse seem to imply that this was a “bare bones” LCPS budget that has been carefully scrutinized. When you consider that the school board actually INCREASED the budget over what the Supt asked for (when you count the removal of double counting, LCSB increased it), that is a complete joke. Per pupil spending has increased 23% since FY11. Inflation was only ~8% so we are increasing our unit costs by 3x inflation! I guess LCPS thinks nobody will notice since they explain per pupil increases as due to “enrollment growth”. Say what?! Higher enrollment should result in economies of scale and lower unit cost. It will explain total spending going up but not per pupil spending. Do they really think we are that dumb? Or maybe the LCPS finance folks (and chief of staff and Supt) are simply incapable of producing an accurate budget. Maybe we should just throw the entire lot out (including the board) and start over.

    4. This board takes every opportunity to throw in additional costs. They have added additional teachers to account for low-income students but rather than simply adjusting the current teachers, they always have to have new positions to meet that need. They ask for “contingency” of 25+ teachers/year. When they don’t fill all of those slots (enrollment wasn’t much higher than expected), they don’t remove last year’s contingency before asking for more, but simply keep all of the contingent positions from last year (including the unfilled ones) and ask for a whole new set. They will literally ask for anything they think they can get away with and then have their liberal hacks claim that the BOS is not “fully funding the schools” if they don’t submit to the LCSB blackmail.

    The only surprising comment was by Ron Meyer in claiming he’d love to have excess balances on hand to use. Maybe Ron can explain to his Red Alert Politics viewers why he is so eager to spread pork around from excess funding as opposed to returning it to the taxpayer. Maybe that is why Trump has been able to capture so much interest. Not so much for what Trump says but because all of the supposed “fiscal conservatives” are always so eager to spend the citizens’ money, especially if they think the public won’t notice.

    It’s rather pointless to have the BOS ask the LCSB questions when all they receive are lies and obfuscation. When asked about the cost of “maintaining/reducing class sizes”, LCSB throws up some enrollment growth cost figures as opposed to stating the exact cost of increasing/reducing class size by 1 student/class (probably around ~$30M). If they provided that class size cost data, it would be a relatively simple exercise. The BOS says let’s go with a $1.14 rate and let the school board actually be responsible for once in their lives. But LCSB believes if they can just lie and dodge enough questions, they may be able to extort some additional $$$$. If only the BOS would refuse to give them a single penny until LCSB presented a 5-year forecasted budget. But now I’m asking for pigs to fly, eh? Oh well, here’s hoping those hogs get some wings.

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