Textbooks or Turf Fields? School Board Weighs Funding Priorities

Coming up with a list of funding priorities posed a divisive task for Loudoun County School Board members tonight.

The 79,000-student school system may get a portion of county funds left over from fiscal year 2016 should the county Board of Supervisors agree to share some of its fund balance.

As the School Board began to draft its funding wish list at tonight’s meeting, the agenda item turned into a debate among board members over whether replacing outdated textbooks or retrofitting Heritage High School with an artificial turf field should take precedence.

The priorities recommended by senior staff members were, in order: 60 new buses ($7.2 million); technology infrastructure ($2.05 million), including replacing 60 aging servers; bus wash equipment ($200,000); synthetic turf at Heritage ($1.9 million); and the installation of school tracks at 19 schools ($12.775 million). Other suggestions for the money that were not prioritized included weight rooms at Dominion, Heritage and Potomac Falls high schools; press boxes at five high schools; and artificial turf at the only other high schools still with natural grass fields, Briar Woods, Dominion and Freedom.

But board members had just heard that there is a dire need for new textbooks, especially for math and Advanced Placement courses. “We have old textbooks. I don’t think math textbooks have been adopted since 2006 or 2005 and some standards are changed,” Cynthia Ambrose, assistant superintendent of instruction, said as she updated the board on students’ standardized tests pass rates earlier in the evening.

Freshmen practice football on Tuscarora High School's artificial turf field. [Danielle Nadler/Loudoun Now]
Freshmen practice football on Tuscarora High School’s artificial turf field. [Danielle Nadler/Loudoun Now]
Speaking to the artificial turf field at Heritage, ranked fourth on the funding wish list, School Board member Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) said, “That $2 million could refresh our textbooks. … I just can’t vote for practice fields and press boxes before I vote for textbooks.”

He also noted that the board is still waiting for answers on whether the fields’ crumb rubber infill is harmful to young athletes. The board has continued to press forward with crumb rubber, but has agreed to keep tabs on ongoing national studies on possible health risks of long-term exposure to the material.

Debbie Rose (Algonkian) spoke in favor of keeping a field for Heritage as a top priority, and suggested that the board plan to pay for a new field at one high school each year until all of the county’s high schools have synthetic grass.

“Most of you guys all have schools with synthetic turf. In my district, when we have inclement weather, we have to fight with other athletic directors to get time on their fields,” she said. “This is a really big deal for my community. It’s not a little frivolous thing.”

Jeff Morse (Dulles) and Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) agreed. “I share Ms. Rose’s woes,” Sheridan said. “There’s a feeling of inequity [among school communities] and that it’s not fair, so we absolutely do have to have a plan in place.”

Board members who said updating the athletic fields is important agreed that updating textbooks is also vital, but could be made a priority in the fiscal year 2018 operating budget.

Leigh Burden, assistant superintendent of financial services, cautioned the board that textbooks likely would not qualify for county fund balance, which is generally earmarked for non-reoccurring capital costs. “I think textbooks would be considered a consumable item and wouldn’t be appropriate for fund balance,” she said. But, she added, if other items are funded, such as new buses, that will leave room in the school system’s operating budget next fiscal year.

Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said that the textbooks should certainly be in the running. “I would argue emphatically that textbooks are not a consumable item,” she said. “Some of our textbooks are older than our buses.”

Superintendent Eric Williams told board members he would talk to County Administrator Tim Hemstreet about how supervisors would view a request for leftover funds to buy textbooks.

The School Board is scheduled to adopt a final list of funding priorities at its Oct. 25 meeting. It will then be sent to the supervisors as a formal request.

dnadler@loudounnow.com
twitter.com/danielle_nadler

4 thoughts on “Textbooks or Turf Fields? School Board Weighs Funding Priorities

  • 2016-12-06 at 9:14 pm
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    Textbooks should be #1 priority. The situation is a joke.
    There are several schools in Loudoun that do not have textbooks at all. Very disturbing…..

  • Pingback: School Board Requests County Funds for Buses, Textbooks, Turf – Loudoun Now

  • 2016-10-12 at 7:34 pm
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    Textbooks, duh. Last I heard, the Loudoun County Schools mission was education. That requires books. Fields are extra-curricular, meaning, optional.

    Craig Green

  • 2016-10-12 at 12:34 am
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    One reason we don’t have math textbooks is because the Know-Nothings (Fox, Rose, Hornberger, Turgeon, etc.) dismissed Common Core as a dead end. The teachers must currently use paper handouts, based on Common Core lessons btw, since we don’t have Common Core textbooks. The old textbooks don’t focus on the concepts that are required to truly understand the math and pass our newer SOL tests. Finally, we have staff who are willing to tell the LCSB members we can no longer tolerate their ignorance and must buy CC-based books. (Note that VDOE was forced kicking and screaming to update the math SOL tests to be more in line with Common Core. They didn’t do it for the benefit of our students.)

    But the bigger issue is the “equity” referenced by Rose. Debbie Rose claimed that it just isn’t fair to ask students to play on grass fields like all students used to do just a decade or so ago. She said it “wasn’t fair” to ask students to use aging weight rooms. She suggested it affected their educational outcomes to have to come early to lift weights in the off season (not during the season, but off season). It’s just so hard for kids these days in LCPS…

    But Debbie Rose has no problem with maintaining the de facto segregation in Sterling and Leesburg. Apparently, she thinks that having 60%+ FRL/ESL rates on the south side of Rt 7 in Sterling is just fine as long as her kids get to attend an elementary school with less than 10% FRL/ESL on the north side of Rt 7 in Sterling. Debbie even claimed that concentrating such students HELPS them achieve despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

    As many in our community show outrage at the desecration of long-closed segregated schools in Ashburn, let us not forget that Debbie Rose, Jill Turgeon and Eric Hornberger are fighting in 2016 to maintain de facto segregation policies. Has any politician spoke out on this? Do we expect Phyllis Randall, Kristen Umstaddt or Koran Saines to ever address any issue that matters to our young kids?

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