Superintendent Eric Williams’ proposed operating budget would boost mental health services in high schools, increase pay for bus drivers and expand full-day kindergarten.
His spending plan for fiscal year 2018 totals $1,124.2 billion. That’s up $93.6 million or 9.1 percent over the current fiscal year budget. He laid out his goals and the price tags attached to them to the School Board on Thursday evening.
Two of the priciest line items are related to enrollment growth, which he expects will cost $32.3 million, and employees’ salary and benefits, at $38.7 million. Projections show the school system will grow by almost 3,000 and reach a total student population of 81,622.
The budget includes $38.7 million in increases related to employee pay. Just less than $14.9 million would give every eligible employee a step increase on the salary scale, to average a pay raise of 2.2 percent. Another $10.3 million would provide pay raises for teachers, to make salaries, especially for mid-level educators, more competitive with neighboring school systems.
Williams wants to spend $2.3 million to give bus drivers more hours and a pay raise. The school system has faced a severe bus driver shortage this school year, and many drivers have pointed to the low pay, few hours and increasing health care costs as factors. The superintendent promised more details on his plan to retain and recruit more drivers in the coming weeks.
In response to an increase in suicides among Loudoun students, the superintendent wants to create unified mental health support teams for each high school. Williams said the Pupil Services Department is “woefully understaffed,” and he’s recommending five psychologists, eight social workers, eight school counselors, two supervisors and two student assistance be added.
“This would build on existing efforts to promote mental wellness and resiliency, increase early detection, provide social and emotional support, and encourage help-seeking behavior and access to mental health treatment,” he said.
The spending plan would also carve out $8.9 million to provide a full school day for 4,600 of the county’s kindergartners. That would increase full-day kindergarten classrooms from 114 this year to about 200 next year. Williams had initially said he wanted three-fourths of Loudoun kindergartners to have access to a full school day next year, but he was able to reallocate funds to get that to 82 percent.
“I know many in the community would be extremely pleased with this information,” he said.
Loudoun County is one of just a handful of school divisions in the state that does not provide universal full-day kindergarten. But since Williams was hired on as superintendent, he’s made it his stated goal to eventually provide every Loudoun kindergartner with a full day. He said he will come back to the School Board this spring with a plan to get to universal full-day kindergarten.
The budget also calls for $2.9 million to purchase textbooks and digital resources, pay summer school bus drivers and reinstate three more middle school deans to provide one dean per grade level in each middle school. All three of those requests are meant to restore some of the line items that were cut during the tightest budget years, Williams said. “We are not going over to the Board of Supervisors with our hand out saying let’s restore everything from [fiscal year 2009]. … This is what is most important to us.”
On the revenue side, the outlook is much rosier than both county and school leaders initially expected. A big smile stretched across the superintendent’s face when he reached this portion of his presentation. Taking into account county government’s new revenue projections presented to the Board of Supervisors last night, the gap between likely county funds and what Williams’ spending plan would require is as much as $11.3 million and as little as $6.3 million, depending on the adopted tax rate.
“This is excellent information,” Williams said.
At this point in the budget season last year, that gap between proposed local funds and schools’ budget request was more than $35 million. The year before that, it was as much as $28 million.
“We are in a better situation than we were two years ago and the supervisors fully funded the school budget that year,” Williams said. “I’m very excited about that.”
Tonight’s presentation kicks off Loudoun County’s four-month budget season. The School Board will pore over the details of Williams’ proposal in several work sessions ahead of adopting a final plan Feb. 2. The budget is then sent to the county Board of Supervisors as a funding request. Supervisors are scheduled to adopt their budget April 4.
The School Board will hold two public hearings: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26, and Tuesday, Jan. 31, at the school system administration building, 21000 Education Court in Ashburn.
Continue to follow all-things budget related at LoudounNow.com/budget.