It’s Nearly Budget Season: Expect Teacher Raises, Full-Day Kindergarten as Priorities

Loudoun superintendent of schools Eric Williams will unveil his budget roadmap for the school system’s next fiscal year next week.

In the months leading up to the budget season, the superintendent has hinted at some of the big line items that could be included in his funding plan for the county’s school system, which has an enrollment expected to breech the 80,000 mark this fall.

Williams and Assistant Superintendent for Financial Services E. Leigh Burden have told School Board members that the district may need as much as $98.5 million more next fiscal year to keep up with student growth and maintain the current level of service. That’s above the current operating budget of $1.06 billion.

The superintendent has said that some of the more expensive items in the budget will be pay raises, an expansion of full-day kindergarten, the opening of new schools, and just keeping up with growing enrollment.

Pay Raises

The School Board was told in November to expect a request for as much as $26.9 million next fiscal year for pay raises for teachers and other staff, including a teacher salary restructure, in an effort to keep pace with nearby jurisdictions. That would equate to a raise of roughly $3,628 per teacher, on average.

The request would be in line with the School Board’s goal in recent years to improve pay, especially for mid-level teachers, where Loudoun trails behind its neighbors. But to continue making notable progress, it would likely require a countywide tax increase.

Compared to four of its neighbors to the east, Loudoun County Public Schools’ ranks fourth in its pay for teachers with a master’s degree and at least 10 years of experience, with a salary of $62,404 and only Prince William County trails behind. Williams’ goal is to increase Loudoun’s rank to at least third in that category, by surpassing Fairfax County’s pay of $64,664.

He said that pay certainly is not the only factor teachers consider when choosing a school district, but it is a big one. “There are other steps that need to be a part of recruitment and retention,” he said, “but this certainly is one part.”

New Students, New Schools

The county is expected to welcome almost 3,000 more students this fall, plus open a new middle school and prepare for the opening of three other schools.

Burden has told School Board members they will need to brace for $33 million in new expenditures just related to student growth. Early forecasts estimate the division will enroll 81,622 students next school year, that’s up almost 3,000 students over the current school year.

The budget will also likely include another $2.3 million to pay for new schools. The money will be used to pay for staff positions at Brambleton Middle School, set to open in August, as well as at a new elementary school, new middle school and the Academies of Loudoun that will open the following year.

Full-Day Kindergarten

Eighteen months after county officials up for re-election pressured Williams to accelerate plans to provide universal full-day kindergarten, the superintendent says he will continue to take big steps toward a county-wide program this fall.

In this current school year, full-day kindergarten is provided for 2,507 students, about half of the county’s kindergartners. Williams’ plan is to expand that to 75 percent of kindergartners by this fall and to every public school kindergartener by 2020.

He has said that a countywide, full-day program will add $11 million more to the operating budget annually. So expanding the program could require tax hikes for county residents or the superintendent will have to find savings elsewhere in the operating budget.

During a presentation to county supervisors last fall, Williams said of the gradual expansion of the program, “Is it a glass half full or a glass half empty? We feel that it’s both in this case. We can be pleased in the progress that we’ve made, all while having a sense of urgency in moving forward.”

Other Costs

Williams’ spending plan is also expected to include money for new buses and updated textbooks.

The School Board asked the county Board of Supervisors to spend over $5.6 million in fiscal year 2017 surplus funds to purchase 34 buses and new textbooks. Supervisors declined the School Board’s request, saying buses and books are reoccurring costs and should be part of the operating budget, not covered with money earmarked for one-time capital projects.

Burden has also told the School Board to expect an increase of $10 million to make required contributions to the Virginia Retirement System and another $2.6 million for increased health care costs.

The superintendent will present his spending proposal at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, at the school administration office, 21000 Education Court in Ashburn. The School Board is scheduled to make changes and adopt the budget Feb. 2. From there, it will go to the Board of Supervisors as a formal funding request.

dnadler@loudounnow.com
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