Letter: Lisa Gillespie, Leesburg

Editor: On April 4, the Board of Supervisors may vote to shortchange the Loudoun County Public Schools budget for the seventh time in eight years. Despite miraculously finding the money in 2015 (an election year, by the way) to fully fund the schools’ budget request, we’ve seen cuts exceeding $117 million over the past five years.

Comparing the increased budget request for this year against enrollment growth is an oversimplification of the financial hole the school system needs to dig itself out of after so many lean years. Now we have millions of dollars in deferred maintenance and staffing decreases that need to be restored.  According to the Washington Area Boards of Education Guide for 2017, Loudoun County has the second lowest spending per pupil in Northern Virginia. The county with the highest median income in the country still doesn’t have full day kindergarten. This perpetual belt-tightening is penny wise and pound foolish.

In a year of revenue growth, it makes financial sense to recover and strengthen the school system, along with the rest of the county government.  A two-cent tax cut, in the face of these needs, seems short-sighted and perhaps even reckless. A more cautious approach would be to adopt the advertised rate of 1.14 (a modest decrease), or even the balanced tax rate of 1.135. Either rate would allow the Board to fully fund the LCPS budget request this year.

If we can afford to reduce taxes this year, the county should also take this opportunity to recover from leaner years and allow the school system to do the same.

Lisa Gillespie, Leesburg

14 thoughts on “Letter: Lisa Gillespie, Leesburg

  • 2017-03-30 at 12:45 pm
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    How, precisely, is an 88.1 million dollar increase over last years school budget a “cut?” How can you write such a thing without knowing deep down it’s a falsehood? Do you care about honesty Ms. Gillespie?

    Funding met 99 percent of the INCREASED school budget request. This increase was followed by an increase in last years budget, and the year before that. Explain the logic of calling budget increases, budget “cuts.”

    Debating funding levels is great, but at least make an effort to do so honesty. Starting with a falsehood won’t help your cause.

    Negative and dishonest letters such as this cast Loudoun’s taxpayers as cheapskates, when nothing culd be further from the truth.

  • 2017-03-30 at 2:33 pm
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    LCPS has averaged about a 3% enrollment growth and an 8% funding increase for the past several years.

    LCPS’s operating budget increased 60.7% from $718M in FY 2011 to $1.15 billion in the FY 2018 proposed budget. That is almost 3x their enrollment growth!!!!

    Ms. Gillespie, if you think LCPS is underfunded, you are more than welcome to open your own pocketbook and put your children in an adequately funded private school.

  • 2017-03-30 at 11:31 pm
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    I’ll tell you what is dishonest: Comments questioning the honesty of Ms. Gillespie! Ms. Gillespie accurately noted that the school board has been shorted 117 million dollars over the past several years of budget negotiations. That’s a fact. Nothing she said was dishonest. It is true that the LCPS budget has increased most of the last several years. If deciding on a school budget meant simply increasing it incrementally each year, why do we employ a school board and many staff members to study and propose a budget? We elect and hire people to accurately gauge the needs of the school system. The school board is non partisan, but everyone knows that 6 out of 9 are republican. Is a majority republican school board really overstating the schools’ needs? No. They are giving a conservative, minimum amount for the schools’ very minimum needs.

    Are Loudoun taxpayers cheapskates? Certainly not! Democratic, Republican, and Independent Loudouners I know just want their money well spent. Advocates on all sides are against the inflation of high level administrative salaries, especially when these administrators fail to give transparency on issues of great interest to the public, like predatory teachers and teen suicide.

    Our schools have been suffering. Anyone with a child in public schools knows some aspect of the weakening of LCPS over the last few years. Teachers have had health benefits cut back. As a result, we have a teacher shortage. Foreign language education is nonexistent until high school. Math specialists, who used to travel the county, training math teachers on how to make math make sense, connecting concrete to abstract, have been eliminated, leaving all of our children subject to memorizing algorithms and giving up on understanding. How are we supposed to train an innovative work force, when we have eliminated innovation in mathematics instruction? In addition, school nurses are cut, mental health services are cut. Loudoun is better than this. Of course it costs more than the amount of new enrollments. We have to make up for years of cut backs, and plan for the future at the same time.

    Any business owner knows that what you do with increased revenue is REINVEST. Every property owner in Loudoun should know that the best thing to do with increased revenue is reinvest in our schools. It helps our kids. It helps our home values. It helps our future.

  • 2017-03-31 at 10:07 am
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    Please explain how multi-year budget increases, including $88 million up this year, have resulted in “cuts” Ms. Lydrose?

    We agree! Hyper inflated administrative costs need reform, and Loudoun taxpayers are not cheapskates by any definition. So why is Ms. Gillespie inferring they are?

    I don’t know Ms. Gillespie. I do know that it is impossible to call an increase in budgets, a “cut” unless you’re engaging in some sort of Enron type accounting. Are you?
    I will comment every time where people are being dishonest. Her letter is dishonest. I will not be intimidated by bullies for pointing it out. Ever, ever, ever.

  • 2017-03-31 at 10:44 am
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    @Lydrose. The fact that the SB doesn’t fund textbooks and spends it elsewhere is a flashing neon sign that the School Board is incompetent or a lying sack of @%@#@. Some school board members would rather spend their time getting arrested at political rallies than do their actual job.

    This is the same story over and over, year after year. The SB underfunds popular and critical items while funding non-essential items (admin salaries, turf fields, smartboards, etc.). Then they come crying for more money after they have willfully withheld it from critical needs. Their shortfalls are the result of their own stupidity.

    Stop yelling at the BoS for more money. It is the School Board that is causing your problems you list out. Go after them and stop gouging the Loudoun taxpayers who are VERY generously funding your $1B+ operational budget and carry over $1B in school related debt.

    As I said, if you don’t like it, you can cough up $15k+/year to send your kids to private school instead of paying a measly $3k/year through taxes to contribute to the $15k/year per child it costs us taxpayers to put your kid through LCPS.

    Ungrateful…..

  • 2017-03-31 at 12:12 pm
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    David Dickinson, I have two children, so I’m costing the system twice what you suppose! Let me take this opportunity to thank you for helping to pay for their schooling. (I am doing my best to be polite, in contrast to your comment which is insulting, rude, and profane.)

    Chris Manthos, your argument is purely semantic. Your sanctimonious indignation is based solely on Ms. Gillespie’s choice of word: cut. Regardless of the word choice, the truth of the matter is that the schools have asked for 117 million more than they have received over the past few years. You can criticize her word choice if you would like, but perhaps dial down the indignation.

  • 2017-03-31 at 2:46 pm
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    Thank you Lydrose for being honest. The school budget has NOT been “cut” 117 million dollars in the last five years. In fact, it has been increased year after year, including a whopping 88 million this year alone.

    If I asked you to give me a 20 spot, and you only gave me 15 bucks, and then I gave you crap about how you “cheated” me, you’d think I was crazy and greedy, and rightfully so. It’s the very same here: The author attempted to pass off over inflated budget negotiating tactics, as actual school “cuts.”

    Where I come from, we don’t call that semantics — we call that a big fat lie.

    For Ms. Gillespie to engage a lie, as the basis for implying Loudoun taxpayers are cheapskates, makes it even worse.

    Again, thank you for your honesty Lydrose. It’s only through honesty that meaningful public debate can take place.

  • 2017-03-31 at 3:00 pm
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    Why dial down the indignation? This is the same game LCPS has been playing for years. The same inflated budget request. The same misallocation of funds. The same false indignation for every unfunded nickle. And then the same miraculous surplus arrives at the end of every LCPS year. We have a right to be indignant. LCPS has been lying to us for years.

    Lydrose, your post was chock full of indignation–false indignation. Because anyone that actually looks at the funding levels of LCPS and then looks at how they spend their money (which is completely the decision of the School Board and not the BoS) can see that LCPS is extremely well funded and, in the opinions of most, over funded.

    I say again, “LCPS’s operating budget increased 60.7% from $718M in FY 2011 to $1.15 billion in the FY 2018 proposed budget. That is almost 3x their enrollment growth!!!!”

  • 2017-03-31 at 5:57 pm
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    Chris and David…. You seem to be confident about your position that the LCPS budget is inflated. Have you examined it in detail to the extent that you can identify the wasteful spending? My experience has been that classes are often large, and specialists such as for reading, ELL, and guidance are stretched to an unreasonable extent. The busses are falling apart and we don’t have universal FDK. All that to say, in my opinion, there are absolutely needs in the schools that are not being met. Where do you think they should cut funds and spending? Do you have kids in the schools and seeing wasteful spending, or are you just looking at the numbers and finding them excessive?

  • 2017-03-31 at 9:48 pm
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    It should be clear from the context that the “$117 million in cuts” refers to the cumulative difference between the budget requests and actual amounts transferred to the school system, not year-to-year reductions in the LCPS budget (we know that the budget is growing overall). Supervisor Umstattd referred to this 5-year shortfall number in a recent article (http://loudounnow.com/2017/03/29/whats-in-the-budget/):

    “Over the last five years, we have seen cuts in the requested school budget of over $117 million, and when you have significant cuts like that over a period of five years, you need to start fully funding a school budget to make up some of the ground lost,” said Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg).

    In fact, I was able to confirm today that the cumulative budget request shortfall for FY11-FY17 is actually $147.5 million.

    Accusations of dishonesty and other inferences not included in my letter do not change the facts or add to the discussion.

    Why not split the difference in the tax rate, and follow the recommendations of the good people who came up with the balanced rate of 1.135? We can have a modest tax cut AND fund the LCPS budget request this year. That’s just common sense.

  • 2017-04-03 at 10:51 am
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    @loveleesburg77 “universal FDK” Full Day Kindergarten is an enormous waste of resources. Studies show that any advantage (and often there isn’t one) fades by 3rd grade. Kids in 4th grade on onwards demonstrate no benefit by having attended FDK. A clear proofpoint is LCPS itself. LCPS consistently ranks highly academically among public schools and, yet, these graduates did not attend FDK. The real reason for FDK is that is shoves babysitting expenditures onto the taxpayer. Parents foist their costs onto the school district that then extract payment from the community. FDK is a TOTAL waste (small exception for ESL learners) and costs $80M, if I recall correctly.

    Other wastes of money are the enormous expenditures for athletics.

    Another is the administrative overhead. Riddle me this. If it costs $15k/year for each kid in LCPS and there are 25 kids per class, then each class costs $375k/year to educate. If a teacher is getting $80k with salary and benefits, where is the other $300k/classroom going???

  • 2017-04-03 at 11:01 am
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    @LisaGillespie “the “$117 million in cuts” refers to the cumulative difference between the budget requests and actual amounts transferred to the school system”

    Well, you have demonstrated that you are fully cognizant of the deception and are furthering it in the community. You are stating that LCPS should get whatever it wants. Period.

    I’m glad the BoS holds the purse strings. Under your logic, you are willing to pay anything for LCPS and give them anything they want. To an earlier point, that’s probably because for every dollar you contribute via taxes, you are getting 5 dollars in education funds if you have one child in LCPS (multiply by 5 for each additional child). It is no wonder parents keep harping for more funding. It’s practically free money to them.

    To quote an article from this paper, “What we received from the schools is not a budget, it is a request, and they are very different things, because a budget has fiscal restraint,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “What we received from the schools is, if we could have everything we would like to have, here’s what it would cost.”

    Your letter is deceptive.

  • 2017-04-03 at 2:35 pm
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    Never have I seen a more dishonest and inaccurate letter. Let’s dissect these in detail:

    1. In FY16, LCPS had over $22M left over in unspent funds even after transferring ~$17M to shore up trust funds (unexpected transfer but hey if LCPS grossly overestimates its budget, the BOS bailed them out on these trusts). Now, LCPS financial “experts” (misnomer if there ever was one) tell us they need $93M MORE than their FY17 budget when they can’t spend $10M’s given to LCPS?!!! We all know they are completely incompetent but when you condone such shenanigans, you lose complete credibility.

    2. You don’t even try to justify the retention data LCPS was forced to publish. It has the lowest attrition in the region and many times more teachers are transferring from Fairfax to LCPS. Much of the inflated request is for salary increases for board member spouses who have no intention of leaving. When LCPS can’t even interview all their candidates, we don’t need to throw 5%+ raises at teachers who receive no objective evaluations.

    3. You claim we have “deferred maintenance and staffing decreases. Hello, have you looked at the budget docs? In FY16, LCPS had $13.2M leftover in personnel and $6.3M leftover in operations and maintenance. (see the variance column in Table XII of page 74) In what world does that require the BOS to throw even more money when they aren’t spending much of what they were given?

    4. You cite the per pupil spending of LCPS compared to the much higher cost of living districts to the East. Question… does WABE track the costs of Fauquier or Clarke county? Those have much lower spending levels yet are in close proximity. Why don’t you just compare LCPS to NYC? And you do realize that younger teachers (who form the majority of new hires) cost less. LCPS has grown much faster than surrounding districts and has a larger share of those younger, lower-cost teachers. Once they hit mid-career, this same budget structure will cost $10M’s more and the per pupil rate will be much higher.

    It is deeply concerning when education “advocates” can’t transparently discuss the issues of funding our schools. One hopes it is simply from a lack of knowledge as the alternative is much more unsettling. But either way, the public is fed up with this nonsense of funding the wild desires of a school board voting their own pocketbooks.

  • 2017-04-03 at 4:55 pm
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    Ms. Gillespie, Government is the only entity in the universe which portray budget increases as budget “cuts.” The LCPS budget has not been “cut” in any way over the last 5 years. It has been increased well in excess of the 117 million taxpayer dollars you falsely claim. Add in the large amount of school bonds approved by taxpayers during that same period and it’s clear to me that Loudoun Taxpayers are extremely generous. To insinuate anything less is insulting to your fellow citizens and a bald-faced falsehood.

    Supervisor Umstattd is a skilled democrat politician. Politicians such as her view any budget not meeting her expand government at any cost agenda as “cuts.” I expect it from her. Yet even she knows that writing a letter to the editor the caliber of yours would be a printed deception.

    Being honest does indeed matter Ms. Gillespie. When you push an agenda based on a lie, then the lie becomes the issue, rather than the subject you wanted to discuss.

    Loveburg77 — We can start with not grossly overpaying market value for land for school sites. Second, I’d offer an 80-million-dollar high school building is probably as serviceable as a 100-million-dollar building. We could get 5 HS’s for the price of four with just a little bit of thinking involved. Third, I have yet to see the cost effectiveness of astroturf over grass. Education doesn’t come from the price of the bricks in the walls; it comes from people inside those walls.

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