Loudoun County School Board members shared their legislative priorities—some new and some that have been on their wish list for years—with state lawmakers this morning.
Seven of the delegates and senators who represent Loudoun in Richmond attended the School Board’s annual Legislative Breakfast, and left with a list of laws school leaders want to see changed.
At the top of the list was a request the School Board has made year after year, and that’s for the freedom for local school boards to create their own calendar for the academic year. A state law referred to as the “King’s Dominion Law” requires public schools in Virginia to begin their academic year after Labor Day. Schools can get a waiver from the law if they tally enough snow days in previous years.
“This has a direct impact on our teachers, our families, and our School Board discussion—we spend a lot of time talking about it,” Board member Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) said. “We want local control on that one.”
“This is a huge issue,” her colleague Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) added.
“This is probably the one thing I get the most angry emails about,” board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian) said.
Families especially want consistency, board member Joy Maloney (Broad Run) added. Loudoun schools’ start date shifts from year to year, depending on whether they tallied enough snow days to qualify for the waiver. “They don’t want to rely on that waiver every year.”
Gradually, more lawmakers are warming up to the idea of reversing the “King’s Dominion Law,” state Sen. Barbara A. Favola (D-31) told board members. And she said she’ll work to convince those who are more reluctant. Some lawmakers argue that tourism businesses in their districts don’t want to lose their seasonal teenage employees before Labor Day. “But I am an advocate for local control,” Favola said. “School boards are part of the local community, they understand the local economic impacts, and work with their boards of supervisors. They should be making the decision.”
The School Board also asked the legislators to do their part to change current law that prohibits board members from participating in transactions when their immediate family members are employed by the school district. Current law allows for them to take part in the discussion and vote if they first read a lengthy disclosure into the record. Board members are advocating for that disclosure requirement to be satisfied by listing school board’s immediate family members’ employment in the annual financial disclosure form.
The spouses of four board members—Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles), Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge), Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) and Eric Hornberger (Ashburn)—work for Loudoun County Public Schools—and each member reads a disclosure each time budget and personnel policies are brought up.
“This is a concern throughout the commonwealth,” Hornberger said. “We have suggestions of how to make the law more effective, so it doesn’t require mundane, ridiculous disclosures that you have to make ahead of any discussion because your spouse works for the school system.”
Favola agreed to carry a bill to address that on the Senate side, and Del. Kathleen J. Murphy (D-34) said she’ll carry a similar bill on the House side.
One area the School Board made clear they want legislators to leave to them is full-day kindergarten. Delegate-elect David Reid (D-32), who unseated longtime Republican Del. Thomas “Tag” Greason in the Nov. 7 election, broached the subject, asking school leaders what progress they’re making in that area. Loudoun is one of three Virginia school systems that does not have universal full-day kindergarten, and legislators in the past have filed bills that would require them to offer every kindergartner a full academic day. But Loudoun’s School Board members have stressed that a state law, without any money attached, will do little to help the problem.
Morse explained that just four years ago, the school system offered a full school day to 11 percent of its kindergartners and that’s since growth to more than 80 percent. But the hurdle to extend the program to every kindergartner is a lack of space in elementary schools in the fastest growing district, Dulles, which Morse represents.
“As one of the fastest growing counties, we are continually having to keep up. And we’re balancing school projects with other county needs, like fire stations,” he said. “As fast as we can build schools, our residents fill them.”
“It is an infrastructure problem,” Morse added. “It’s not a lack of desire at this point.”
School Board members will check in with the delegates and state senators again after the 2018 session has kicked off with a dinner in Richmond on Jan. 22.
“Thank you for coming and hearing our priorities,” Sheridan said. “See you in Richmond.”
Also attending the breakfast was Sen. Richard H. Black (R-13), Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-33), Del. David LaRock (R-33), and Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10). Loudoun will have three new delegates—all Democrats who unseated longtime Republican incumbents—representing them in the General Assembly when the session begins Jan. 15: Reid, Gooditis, and Democrat Karrie Delaney (D-67). Delaney did not attend the School Board’s Legislative Breakfast.