School Budget Reconciliation: Increased Class Sizes On the Table

The Loudoun County School Board will hear from the public tonight on how it should trim $16.9 million from its adopted operating budget for next fiscal year.

A public hearing is set for 6:30 p.m. at the county school administration building, at 21000 Education Court in Ashburn.

Superintendent Eric Williams presented the board last week with recommendations on how to close the gap between the $1.07 billion budget and the allocation approved by the Board of Supervisors. Supervisors voted to give the school system $694.8 million, a 5.5 percent increase over the current fiscal year, but not enough to cover everything the School Board had planned for fiscal year 2017.

Williams gave the School Board three lists: one detailing “recommended reductions,” one of “possible reductions,” and a list of cuts he would not recommend.

The recommended reductions he outlined included about $6.8 million worth of small adjustments in several areas of the budget, including holding off on creating a performing arts magnet program and restoring five middle school dean positions.

His list of what he called “possible reductions” totaled $21.7 million, many of which would delay some of the board’s plans to expand new programs and improve employee pay. The cut that would save the most money is a proposal to increase the average class size in elementary schools by half of a student, and by a full student in middle and high schools. That would eliminate the need for 117.4 new full-time equivalent teachers and save $10.2 million.

Another deep cut would be to roll out a scaled down version of the full-day kindergarten expansion. The board’s adopted budget would have expanded the program to about 75 percent of the county’s kindergartners, but the superintendent told board members last week that they may want to consider just extending it out to 53 percent of kindergartners, saving $4.8 million.

This school year, 34 percent of Loudoun kindergartners attend school for a full day. Loudoun County is one of only three school systems in Virginia that does not provide universal full-day kindergarten.

Also on the table is taking $1 million from the effort to restructure the teacher salary scale. The board initially earmarked $6.7 million toward that effort, meant to make pay for mid-level teachers more competitive.

One of the more controversial potential cuts mentioned on the “possible reductions” list would be to require health and physical education instructors to teach Family Life Education, to save about $1.8 million. It would mean as many as 12 teachers would lose their job, Williams said.

[See the full list of recommended reductions here.]

School Board member Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said the superintendent’s blueprint of possible cuts was well thought out. “I don’t see anything there that’s not trying to do what’s best for the division,” she said.

The couple of changes she said she would not support is keeping small schools staffed with just a part-time principal instead of full time—which is on the superintendent’s list of reductions he would not recommend—or shifting FLE instruction to physical education teachers.

“I don’t want to make programmatic changes during a budget process if possible,” she said. “I’d rather look at it this coming year and see if it’s something we’re prepared to do.”

The board is scheduled to vote on changes and adopt a reconciled budget tomorrow.