As they prepare to set out the budget for the next year, county supervisors have applauded the School Board’s progress on offering a full day of kindergarten to every Loudoun family that wants it.
Loudoun is one of only three counties in Virginia that does not offer universal full-day kindergarten. But included in the School Board’s budget request for next year is a plan to do just that, expanding from approximately 80 percent of the county this year and reaching the goal expanding the service countywide at least a year ahead of schedule.
At a joint meeting of the School board and Board of Supervisors last night, County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) called that “nothing less than astounding.”
“It’s amazing the progress that has been made on full-day kindergarten,” said Supervisor Suzanne M. Volpe (R-Algonkian). “For those of you who may not know, Fairfax County finally succeeded getting to universal full-day kindergarten in 2011, and that was a 10-year plan, and that included by the way trailers to get them to that.”
Superintendent Eric Williams’ first draft of the school system’s $1.202 billion fiscal year 2019 budget included $2 million to expand full-day offerings to 97 percent of students. About 260 students would have only a half day of kindergarten available to them.
A revision suggested by School Board member Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) tacked on another $204,000 to send students at the four elementary schools without the classroom space for full-day kindergarten to neighboring schools.
With the School Board’s request in hand, supervisors will now turn to writing the county budget. County Administrator Tim Hemstreet is scheduled to present his proposed budget Feb. 14.
Supervisors have instructed him to prepare that budget with revenues from a real estate tax rate of $1.09 per $100 of assessed value, a 3.5-cent cut from this year’s rate. That represents the equalized tax rate, or the rate at which the average taxpayer will pay the same dollar amount in real estate taxes despite rising property values.
At that rate, Williams estimates county revenues will fall short $11 million of the School Board’s request.
“The good news that strikes me instantly is, even at the equalized tax rate which is what the county administrator’s initial budget presentation will be, the gap is only $11 million,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “$11 million out of a $1.2 billion budget. So a lot of discussion and a lot of effort will take place over a relatively tiny percentage of the budget, which is good. It means our starting place is better than it’s been in a lot of years.”
But some persistent conflicts with the School Board could come up again this year. In particular, Letourneau asked about the school system’s continued effort to bring its pay scale in line with other, higher-paying Northern Virginia jurisdictions.
“For me, this is my seventh year doing this, all seven years I’ve heard about how we need to catch up … and we never seem to get there,” Letourneau said.
School Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) responded that the school system’s difficulty is hiring more experienced teachers. And Williams’s budget presentation highlighted the county’s breakneck pace of growth.
“We’re going to continue to hire more than 800 teachers a year, and challenges are anticipated both in Virginia and nationally related to teacher vacancies,” Williams said.
And Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) said she had been “very impressed” with the school system’s computer science immersion classes. Students in every grade level at three elementary schools— Meadowland Elementary, Moorefield Station Elementary and Round Hill Elementary—spend at least 30 minutes every day learning computer coding. Umstattd wanted to know if that would be expanded to every school.
Williams said the school system plans to expand the emphasis on computer science in both elementary and middle schools, but does not currently plan to designate every elementary school an immersion school.