Superintendent Eric Williams pulled back the curtain on a proposed $1.07 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2017 tonight.
The recommended budget is $86.7 million—or 8.8 percent—more than the current fiscal year’s budget. If approved, it would be the first time the 76,000-student school division has hit the billion dollar mark.
Williams said his budget calls for enough money to meet the needs of one of the region’s fastest growing school divisions, but also includes some expanded services, including doubling the number of kindergartners who have access to a full school day.
“We want a budget that’s going to allow us to build on our excellence, not just sustain it,” Williams told Loudoun County School Board members during his presentation.
He’s recommending the creation of 442 new positions and $37.7 million just to cover the cost of the 1,978 additional students expected to enroll this fall. “We’ve seen tremendous growth,” he said.
His plan carves out $18.5 million for employee raises and other compensation increases. Just more than $10 million of that would go toward raises for employees who qualify, and another $6.7 million would help restructure teacher salary schedule to make pay for certain positions more competitive.
When it comes to pay for experienced teachers, Loudoun County lags behind its neighbors to the east, Williams said. “This is about the quality of teachers that our children are able to benefit from in terms of their education. I can’t overstate the importance of this.”
The superintendent told board members that more details about his plan to extend full-day kindergarten would be made public in later work sessions. For now, he did say it calls for the addition of 137.2 full-time equivalent positions for a cost of $9.2 million. It would provide a full, six-hour school day to 75 percent of the county’s kindergarteners.
Loudoun is one of three localities in Virginia that do not offer a full school day to every kindergartener.
Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) praised senior staff members for coming up with a way to expand the program without building classroom additions, which has been a years-long hurdle for the school division.
“That’s huge,” the chairman said.
Williams had said in November that the school division would need $16.32 million in capital funds to build classroom additions to provide full-day kindergarten to 70 percent of Loudoun’s kindergartners. Currently, about 32 percent of local kindergarten students have access to a full day; that’s up from 11 percent last school year.
The budget drafted by the superintendent calls for $1 million to begin the roll out of the Academies of Loudoun by launching the Academy of Engineering and Technology this fall, two years ahead of the full academies opening in the fall of 2018. The Academies of Loudoun will provide space to expand the existing Academies of Science and C.S. Monroe Technology Center, in addition to the Academy of Engineering and Technology. The latter is a new venture that will emphasize bio-mechanics, robotics, bioengineering and cyber-security. Williams did not provide details about where that program would be housed during the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years.
The superintendent just briefly mentioned a proposal to create a performing arts magnet program for a cost of $100,000. The School Board approved a similar magnet program two years ago, but it was ultimately cut during the budget reconciliation process.
The superintendent’s budget would rely on an increase of $58.3 million in county tax funding, in addition to an estimated $26.1 million from the state. Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors, which holds the purse strings for the county government, has directed its staff to prepare a budget based on an equalized tax rate that is intended to keep tax bills level next year. That means the real estate tax rate could fall slightly from $1.135 to $1.13, according to current figures.
Based on projected local tax revenues, the schools would face a $39.5 million funding shortfall, the superintendent said. That is, if supervisors stay on that course on the tax rate and the School Board doesn’t trim Williams’ proposal.
The School Board has four work sessions and two public hearings ahead of the budget’s adoption Feb. 2. The public hearings are planned for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20, and Thursday, Jan. 28, at the school administration building, 21000 Education Court in Ashburn. The adopted budget then goes to the supervisors as a funding request.
The budget outlook for the fiscal year that begins in July will become more clear after the county administrator presents his spending plan to the supervisors Feb. 10.
Other highlights of the superintendent’s proposed budget:
- supplies and equipment increase ($3.7 million)
- contractual service increases ($1.9 million)
- adds 25.7 full-time equivalent positions to focus on differentiated education for academically at-risk students ($1.7 million)
- adds 14.5 full-time equivalent technology assistants ($700,000)
- adds 11.8 positions as part of a reorganization of instructional support ($900,000)
- adds four full-time equivalent positions for instructional coaching ($500,000)
- adds new positions to support transition to ORACLE, software for business and personnel functions ($500,000)
- restores three middle school deans positions ($300,000)
- adds two positions focused on teacher recruitment ($200,000)
- central vehicle maintenance increase ($900,000)
- continue implementing the multi-year plan to provide every teacher with a mobile device (cost covered through reallocation of funds)