Loudoun Supervisors Criticize School System After Funding Request

Supervisors on the county finance committee have been sharply critical of the School Board’s request for additional funding for school buses and textbooks, saying that request indicates poor planning.

As the time nears to decide how to allocate money left over from last year’s budget, requests have begun coming in. The surplus customarily is used to supplement shortfalls in the next year’s budget or to fund one-time requests.

The School Board has asked for almost $7.5 million from the fund balance, including $4 million to purchase 34 buses, $1.5 million for textbooks and digital learning resources, and $1.9 million for a synthetic turf field at Heritage High School.

In a letter from School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn), the School Board explains the money would allow the schools to request 26 new buses in next year’s budget, rather than a planned 60 new buses. Hornberger also wrote that it would decrease the School Board’s request for textbook money, but an assessment of what the school division will need in the future is still ongoing. The last textbook upgrade, he said, was in fiscal year 2006.

The School Board customarily includes some explanation of what it plans with to do with the money alongside its budget requests, but the Board of Supervisors cannot dictate what the school division does with the money once it has been transferred.

“To come and say they need a chunk of cash for textbooks is a little bewildering to me,” said board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). “I’ll just say it—that is piss-poor planning.” He said the request indicated “really lousy management.”

“To me, it should be a cost of doing business in your budget every year, with a strategy of replacement, not a ‘we need this big lump sum of change all of a sudden to bail us out because we didn’t replace textbooks,’” Buona said.

County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) agreed that “it just seems like something went awry in some planning at some point.”

“Is it not part of their budget every year to have regular maintenance of your buses?” she asked, referencing an incident in September when a fuel leak on a bus caused the bus to start smoking, forcing 32 students to evacuate. “I mean, this is safety for the kids.”

The county expects to have $30-$35 million available in the fund balance, and County Administrator Tim Hemstreet said he would probably recommend the majority of that be set aside for use in the fiscal year 2018 budget. That fund balance is about half of last year’s $63 million surplus, and the county budget office is projecting a $57 million revenue shortfall in next year’s budget at the current tax rates.