School Board members took a few deep breaths, sat up straight, and pulled their chairs up to the dais this afternoon to officially kick off the annual budget season.
They were greeted by a smiling Eric Williams, superintendent of schools.
“While the holidays seem like a distant memory, I do hope you’re all well rested,” he said. “Because it’s budget month.”
With that, Williams unveiled his recommended spending plan for the school system’s fiscal year 2019 operating budget. The grand total is $1.202 billion, up 8 percent or $88.9 million over the current fiscal year budget.
The proposal earmarks money to give employees pay raises, expand full-day kindergarten, serve an additional 1,483 students, provide students with more mental health support, and open three new schools, including the long-awaited Academies of Loudoun.
“Additional costs come with new buildings, so this is another variable in the growing budget,” Williams said. “I know board members have worked for many years to make the Academies of Loudoun a reality, so it’s exciting that it’s nearly here.”
He expects it will cost $1.9 million to open the new academies campus, which will accommodate 3,000 students who will attend every other day. The 315,000-square-foot building will house expanded versions of the Academy of Science, the Academy of Engineering and Technology, and the Monroe Advanced Technical Academy.
His proposed budget targets $34.3 million to open and staff Goshen Post Elementary School and Willard Intermediate School and accommodate overall enrollment growth. Projections show 83,105 students will attend the county’s 92 schools this fall.
Pay and Benefits
Williams wants to earmark nearly $30 million to cover pay raises and the increasing costs of health insurance.
He noted that Loudoun teachers with master’s degrees earn $164,000 less than their Fairfax counterparts over the course of a 30-year career. His budget would shrink that gap by improving salary for 1,689 mid-career teachers by an average of 5.8 percent at a cost of $7.8 million.
Under his plan, every teacher would get some sort of pay raise. Teachers in the first nine steps—roughly their first nine years—of their career would get an average of 3.9 percent; more experienced teachers on steps 17 through 20 would get an average 2.3 percent pay raise, and veteran teachers at the top of the pay schedule would get a 1 percent raise. Those salary schedule adjustments would be in addition to annual salary step increases, which will average 2.2 percent.
“It’s about having excellent teachers for all of our students and a competitive compensation package is one part of that,” Williams said.
Administrators, auxiliary and classified employees— those who do not hold teaching licenses—would also see raises under his plan. He sets aside $3.3 million to provide 1.3 percent pay bumps—the first market adjustment raises for those employees since fiscal year 2015. The plan also earmarks $1.9 million to provide raises to custodians that go into effect March 1, and another $1 million to give teacher assistants raises related to a slight increase in their work day.
The Loudoun Education Association launched a campaign it called A Push for A Living Wage last month advocating raises for school support staff, such as custodians, teacher assistants and secretaries. In his presentation tonight, Williams said the school system is doing a multi-year review all of its classified positions, which will could result in more raises in future budgets.
To cover the rising costs of health care, both the employees and the employer—Loudoun County Public Schools—will see an increase in insurance premium payments. Employees on the two most popular insurance plans, the Open Access Plan and Point of Service plan, will see a 5.8 percent premium increase.
Thanks to the opening of Goshen Post Elementary and classroom additions at six schools, nine more schools will have space for universal full-day kindergarten programs this fall. They are: Arcola, Buffalo Trail, Cedar Lane, Dominion Trail, Hutchison Farm, Legacy, Liberty, Moorefield Station, and Pinebrook. And Williams’ plan includes $2 million to pay for it.
That will bring the all-day program to 93 percent of the county’s kindergartners. It will still be a couple of years before the program can be brought to the four remaining elementary schools: Creighton’s Corner, Hillside, Lucketts, and Mill Run. Williams said they will get full-day kindergarten soon, as classroom additions and new schools are built.
The superintendent wants to dedicate $3.2 million to expand mental health services for middle school students through support teams made up of school counselors (17 additional would be hired), social workers (seven additional) and psychologists (seven additional).
His spending plan also aims to lend a hand to students from low-income families, by setting aside $600,000 to help cover the cost of school supplies and field trips, as well as caps and gowns for graduation ceremonies.
Williams also wants to improve school safety by updating security systems, increasing hours for safety and security specialists, and hiring four security patrols to report to schools on an as-needed basis.
To keep pace with new expenses, the superintendent is hoping to get a hefty increase in county and state funds.
Williams expects the school system will get $20.9 million more in state funding next year, and is hoping the county Board of Supervisors will grant $64.6 million more in local funds. Williams noted that if supervisors were to approve that amount, county dollars would make up 67.6 percent of the schools’ operating budget. Ten years ago, county funds accounted for 72 percent of the schools’ budget.
Before the document is sent to the supervisors as a formal funding request, the School Board will dig in and make tweaks to it over the next four weeks. The board will hold five work sessions ahead of adopting a budget Feb. 1. A public hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24.
Following Williams’ presentation today, School Board members saved their comments on the specifics of the budget. But Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) thanked the superintendent and his administration team. “I couldn’t thank you enough for the quality of work that has gone into this document,” he said.
Williams commented more than once on the long hours that will be spent in the board room in the coming days to finalize the budget ahead of adopting a final version.
“I am admittedly a budget geek,” he told board members, “because I enjoy this next month, in terms of working with you on the budget. We have a great opportunity ahead of us.”