Loudoun County school leaders have offered a closer look at what a $88.9 million budget increase could buy.
Superintendent Eric Williams unveiled his $1.202 billion spending plan for the school system’s fiscal year 2019 on Tuesday, and the School Board held its first work session on the proposal last night. The superintendent’s recommended budget for next fiscal year is 8 percent more than the current fiscal year’s budget.
Williams said more money is needed, in large part, to accommodate an additional 1,483 students, open three new schools—Goshen Post Elementary, Willard Intermediate School, and the Academies of Loudoun—cover increasing health care costs, provide employee raises, and pay for 493.5 more full-time equivalent positions.
In the past, county supervisors have criticized school leaders for asking for funding increases at a rate higher than enrollment growth. For example, Williams expects enrollment to grow by just 1.8 percent next school year, but his staff says expenses will grow by 8 percent.
E. Leigh Burden, assistant superintendent of Financial Services, offered an explanation during Thursday’s budget work session. She noted that employee salaries and benefits make up 89.8 percent of the school division’s overall costs.
“That partially explains why there isn’t a one-to-one correlation in the increase in enrollment and expenditures,” she said, noting that health care costs and the natural inflation of things like gas for school buses tick up each year. Plus, she added, “the School Board has prioritized making our compensation more competitive. This also contributes to the overall price of the budget.”
Students don’t come in perfect packages of 25—the number of students in a classroom—she noted. So she and Williams are recommending the board set aside $2.6 million to hire 26 full-time equivalent contingency staff members. Exactly what those positions will be will depend on what the student population calls for this fall.
Williams also told board members that the number of students needing special education and English Language Learner services is growing faster than the overall population. His staff is projecting that the number of ELL students will grow by 7.5 percent, or 687 students, and the number of special education students will grow by 4.3 percent, or 424 students.
“And that’s important to note because this population requires additional resources in order to support their success,” Williams said.
The superintendent’s spending plan earmarks $30 million to cover pay raises and the increasing cost of health insurance. He is recommending more pay raises than expected, especially for the more veteran teachers.
That has David Palanzi, president of the employee advocate group Loudoun Education Association, pleased. In December, Williams offered an early glimpse of what raises he would likely recommend. At that point, it did not look like salaries for teachers on steps 21 to 30—which roughly correlates with the number of years they’ve taught in Loudoun—would go up. But Williams is now recommending that the county’s most veteran teachers get an average salary scale adjustment of 1 percent, or about $975.
“This is a move in the right direction to ensure we remain competitive,” Palanzi said. He described the county’s most experienced teachers as the “backbone of the education workforce. “These are the teachers who mentor beginning teachers, take on leadership roles on school committees, and work to write curriculum.”
Williams’ budget gives mid-career teachers the biggest pay bump. This is part of a years-long effort by the School Board to make their pay more competitive; Loudoun’s pay for mid-career teachers has consistently lagged behind neighboring school districts.
Adjusting the salary scale for nearly 1,700 of those teachers with between 10 to 16 years of experience will translate to an average raise of 5.8 percent. This would bring the pay for a teacher with 10 years of experience and a master’s degree to $65,237. That’s still behind what Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax County pays its mid-career teachers, but slightly ahead of Prince William County.
And under Williams’ plan, every eligible employee will also get a step increase—similar to a cost of living increase—that averages 2.2 percent. Employees who are at their position’s top step or those who receive an unsatisfactory performance evaluation would not receive a step increase.
Palanzi said he’s encouraged that the superintendent and the School Board seem to be on the same page about making Loudoun school employees’ more competitive with Fairfax, Prince William and other school systems to the east.
“This is especially important as we have a national teacher shortage,” he said, noting that there were 1,000 teaching positions Virginia schools were unable to fill. “This number is expected to grow in the coming years because of the lack of students in the pipeline to become teachers.”
Before the budget document is sent to the county supervisors as a formal funding request, the School Board will make tweaks to it over the next four weeks. The board has four more work sessions scheduled ahead of adopting a budget Feb. 1. A public hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24.